Small puddles, big problems for new bridge

A pickup crosses the Gardena bridge over the Walla Walla River Wednesday afternoon. Water ponding on the bridge deck have raised concerns about possible problems with the construction of the recently-completed structure.

A pickup crosses the Gardena bridge over the Walla Walla River Wednesday afternoon. Water ponding on the bridge deck have raised concerns about possible problems with the construction of the recently-completed structure. Photo by Andy Porter.

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TOUCHET — Water under a bridge isn’t a problem. Water on a bridge is another matter entirely.

Rainwater ponding on the new Gardena Road bridge south of Touchet has raised red flags with county officials, who are working with the bridge builders and other experts to find the cause and what should be done to cure it.

County Public Works Director Randy Glaeser said Wednesday he met with “key players” at the bridge to look over the structure and discuss the issues. He had earlier reported the problem to county commissioners at their Oct. 23 meeting.

Glaeser told commissioners the problem became apparent when the first rains fell in October. Instead of draining off, he said the precipitation caused “considerable ponding on the shoulders of the bridge almost for the entire length of the bridge.”

The standing water points to two potentially serious problems. The first involves the girders supporting the bridge deck and the second is the deck itself.

Glaeser said that when the bridge was installed, the girders came pre-stressed with a convex shape. This meant they were arched so that when the bridge structure was placed on them, they depressed but still should have been convex to make water drain away.

However, he told commissioners, what they have discovered is the bridge deck is concave, “which is not a good thing.” Survey work by the county also showed the deck has problems in regard to being the right elevation and thicknesses.

“Right now we’re in the process of working with the bridge engineers and the girder manufacturer to get better information,” Glaeser said Wednesday. The first step is to determine if the bridge is structurally sound, he said, “and if it’s not, that’s a significant problem.”

“Additional information and analysis is needed to determine an appropriate long term solution,” he said. “However, we are working with the contractor on a short term, temporary solution to the water ponding problem and hope to implement that within the next couple days.”

At their Oct. 23 meeting, commissioners Greg Tompkins, Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson questioned Glaeser about the safety issues and protecting the county’s investment in the $2.6 million structure.

“What’s the warranty on this? What happens if 12 years from now we find it’s a problem?” Tompkins said. “We’ve been too lax in the past (and) I worry about that.”

Glaeser answered that officials would consult “all available experts, including WSDOT bridge design experts” to determine if the structure is safe and how to proceed. He told Tompkins that as of that morning, he had written a letter to the contractor, Apollo Inc., “saying that, with the available data at this point, the county would find the superstructure is not acceptable. We’re not ready to call it a finished product.”

Johnson asked if there was a checklist the county followed or if surveys were done to ensure the elevations were properly constructed “so we don’t have to wait until we have a ton of rain or whatever to find out that’s there’s something structurally not right.”

Glaeser said the county does not, typically, go out and verify everything on a project. “The quality control and quality assurance portions of construction falls back on the contractor,” he said. “So if it is not built properly and we encounter problems, and we can prove it was not built properly, then it still always falls back on the contractor.”

“In this case, we still hold a bond on this project because it has not been closed out yet,” he told commissioners.

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