MICHIGAN CITY – An SUV was totaled when it became wedged between the rising Franklin Street Bridge and the roadway on Friday afternoon, and the bridge did not come away unscathed either.
While county officials and Michigan City Police review video of the accident – in which no one was injured – to find out exactly what caused it, inspection of the bridge is an ongoing process to assess the extent of the damage.
Andy Skwiat of Marquiss Electric is lead contractor on the bridge and knows "every pulley, every lever, every inch of that bridge in the context of last winter’s successful repairs," according to La Porte County attorney Shaw Friedman.
Skwiat said the bridge suffered both structural and mechanical damage from the incident in which the SUV was trapped on the rising bridge, and eventually had to be raised with a forklift from the space between deck and pavement.
"The bridge suffered damage to the new FRP (fiber-reinforced polymer) roadway panel and misalignment of the differential gear assembly, which resulted in too much end play between the bevel gears, pinion gears and spur gears," Skwiat said.
Some of those repairs will require the closing of the bridge, though it's too early for a timetable.
"The new FRP roadway panels, installed this spring, offer numerous advantages over older techniques – one of which is allowing them to be repaired on site," Skwiat said. "The bridge will require minor closure(s) during which it will be unable to operate for watercraft and closed to vehicular traffic while the permanent repairs are performed."
He said some repairs were already completed, and the rest must be completed soon.
"The initial repairs were only intended to allow the bridge to operate safely for a short duration," Skwiat said. "The permanent repairs and associated inspections will need to be performed relatively soon and cannot wait until the end of the season.
"Everyone understands the importance of the lakefront, especially during last week's festivities," he added. But, "We must also remember the importance of ensuring the bridge is operating properly for public safety and to ensure additional damages are not done. Local authorities are coordinating these efforts to minimize risk to the structure and pedestrian inconveniences."
He is hopeful those repairs can be completed in a single day.
"It appears the bridge will need to be closed for approximately one day when it will not be able to operate for watercraft openings. It will also need to close for approximately one day to vehicular traffic while the roadway surface repairs are performed.
"Hopefully, coordination of inspection firms, repair crews and local authorities could possibly combine the closures into one day total. The balance of adjustments, repairs and inspections will not affect operation, based on the damage we currently know about."
The bridge undergoes inspection after any type of incident which puts stress on the structure, Skwiat said.
"We know there is damage and these inspections would note additional requirements along with verifying proper repair of the known damages."
As of Tuesday, he said, there is no known cost estimate.
"The bridge will need to undergo inspection to develop the complete scope of repairs. La Porte County is currently gathering costs and development of planning to perform the known repairs, alongside the inspections. This timeline will be coordinated between affected parties as it will involve bridge closure(s)."
As for the long-term outlook of the bridge?
"County officials are weighing several different options moving forward, including replacement, major rehabilitation, or simply additional repairs to the existing structure over the course of several years," Skwiat said.
"The bridge receives routine maintenance and has been operating great this season thanks to the recent repairs. With that said, there are certainly additional items that will need to be repaired or replaced, and require future expenditures."