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Lawnville Road 2014 - Bridge Replacement
When a critical bridge takes a hit from a tractor trailer, Roane County Highway Department turns to precast concrete for a long-term solution to its immediate problem.
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Precast Saves the Day in Roane County
When a critical bridge takes a hit from a tractor trailer, Roane County Highway Department turns to precast concrete for a long-term solution to its immediate problem.

When a tractor trailer hit and damaged a bridge in rural Roane County, Tenn., the municipality could have come up with a quick fix to handle the emergency situation and to get traffic moving across the bridge again. Within a few years (or less), however, the county would have likely been back in the same position – trying to find a better way to keep the problem from recurring and shutting down a major thoroughfare.

Instead, Roane County Highway Department sought out a better, more permanent fix for the problem. “We had an engineer come down to inspect the bridge and he immediately determined that it was unsafe,” says Dennis Ferguson, Roane County Highway Superintendent. “At that point, we knew we needed to act fast and come up with a solution that would not only solve the traffic issue created by the closed bridge, but that would also strengthen and reinforce the structure.”

According to Ferguson, the quick turnaround project presented some interesting challenges for the highway department, which only learned of the bridge damage after the structure was compromised. Roane County is situated just 30 miles west of Knoxville and is easily accessible via I-40 or any of the numerous state and federal highways that crisscross this centrally located area. The heavily traveled road that the bridge in question spans, for example, is home to an elementary school that hundreds of children and families use to travel back and forth to school every day.

Ferguson says the bridge accident occurred last summer and forced the department to divert traffic around the compromised structure. “Basically, we think a tractor trailer hit the right side of the bridge and knocked the physical structure out of place,” says Ferguson. “As a result, the bridge was deemed unsafe for use. That put us in a tight spot because this road, connecting to I-40, is a key artery for drivers in our county.”
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Precast Concrete, Please
After investigating their options and conferring with engineers, the department decided to replace part of the existing structure with precast concrete box culvert. They called on local precast concrete manufacturer C.R. Barger & Sons, Inc., for help with the project. Working on a compressed timeline, the precaster built six 8-foot by 6-foot 36-C box culverts that would serve as robust reinforcements for the failed structure.

The aging bridge had been in place for a long time and was constructed from wood, steel, and concrete. Ferguson says it would have taken too much time to tear out that structure and use poured-in-place concrete to replace it. “The engineer figured out exactly what we needed to do,” says Ferguson, “in the most effective and timely manner possible.”

Ferguson remarks that precast concrete was the right choice for several reasons: ease and speed of manufacture and installation as well as its potential for long-term use (versus just being a quick fix to an immediate problem). “Instead of having to wait a month for the bridge to be fixed, the job was completed in two days,” says Ferguson. The existing structure was torn out and the box culverts were installed within a 48-hour window.

Working with the installer, Roane County Highway Department’s construction team tore out the existing structure and installed the new culverts in record time. “It was a combined effort that resulted in everything being completed within a timely manner,” says Ferguson.
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Instead of having to wait a month for the bridge to be fixed, the job was completed in two days.
Dennis Ferguson - Superintendent, Roane County Highway Department
Taking the Long-Term View
When Eric Barger, C.R. Barger & Sons’ Vice President, got involved with the project, he says the bridge’s life expectancy was being measured in days. “That’s not good for a bridge; they needed a quick solution to a real emergency on a major thoroughfare,” Barger explains. “The structure was in pretty bad shape.” Barger says that while the county could have used a material like corrugated metal pipe (CMP) to shore up the structure and make it safe for use again, the rural municipality (population 54,000 as of the 2010 census) opted for a much stronger, long-term solution.

“Precast concrete has a 100-year design model, which means that this new structure will last much longer than any other material that was under consideration,” says Barger. “The highway department clearly had a long-term goal in mind when they opted out of the ‘5-year’ model and selected precast as the material of choice.” By making that selection, the county not only walked away with a strong, reliable structure, but it also saved its taxpayers both money and grief over the long haul.

“Both plastic pipe and CMP have lifespans of about five years,” Barger explains, noting that smaller municipalities are often forced to make shorter-term, Band-Aid-type selections based on budgetary constraints and other issues. “By giving its taxpayers a 100-year solution that won’t have to be replaced for a very long time, the highway department proved that it’s able to look at the big picture and make the right choice with a long-term solution.”
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Satisfaction Guaranteed
In total, Ferguson says the road in question was shut down for just two days – an impressive time line for a critical project. “We were able to complete the job and get the road opened back up to traffic very quickly,” he says. Perhaps more importantly, that new structure is much stronger and more reliable than its predecessor. “According to C.R. Barger & Sons, the bridge is now built to hold even more traffic and withstand hits from tractor trailers.”

Noting that the county is “very satisfied,” with the work performed, Ferguson says he’s especially pleased with the fact that the county was able to add a new, wider shoulder for the bridge. “We really felt like we got more bang for our buck in an emergency situation like this one,” says Ferguson. “We’re very happy with the results.”

Going forward, Ferguson says the county plans to incorporate more precast concrete into its bridge and highway repair jobs. “Through this experience, we learned just how valuable precast’s fast installation and controlled manufacturing process can be,” says Ferguson. “We were able to get everything done without much traffic interruption and with the knowledge that we’ve built a structure that will truly last. That’s invaluable.”
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