Houlton pedestrian bridge inspection planned to assure user safety

2 months ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Town Council approved the inspection of the town’s Gateway Crossing pedestrian arch bridge to make sure it meets all standards after getting notice from the Maine State Board of Licensing that a similar bridge, designed by the same engineers, collapsed in Hickory, North Carolina.

The state licensing board was asking about an inspection report from 2019, according to code enforcement officer Ben Torres. The company that designed the Gateway Crossing Bridge had another structure similar in materials but not exactly in design in Hickory, North Carolina.

“That bridge had a catastrophic failure of its laminated timber structure within a year of being put up so they were following up on the company’s other structures, ” Torres said. 

The Houlton Gateway Crossing Bridge has been up for nearly two decades. But Interim Town Manager Tim DeLuca said that there were several maintenance and repair items in the 2019 inspection that they were unable to find any record of being done.

“We figured it prudent to get another inspection of the bridge to see if the needs have changed,” DeLuca said.

Both Torres and DeLuca were not involved in the 2019 inspection. 

Sewell Engineering in Caribou will complete the $4,900 visual inspection within the next few weeks, DeLuca said.

The pedestrian arch bridge in North Carolina, designed and the arches fabricated by Western Wood, the company that also designed and fabricated the Houlton pedestrian bridge arches, had a catastrophic failure and the arches fell to the ground during a mild windstorm, Torres said. 

There were no fatalities or injuries, he added.

Councilor Eileen McLaughlin asked if there was an implosion of the bridge.

“How bad are we talking?” she asked.

According to Torres the double arches ended up on the ground in a complete collapse.

McLaughlin asked several times if the town should be doing a structural inspection of this bridge instead of a visual inspection.

But DeLuca said they would start with the visual inspection and take it from there.

In the 2019 Houlton bridge inspection, the engineers found that the north and south arches had horizontal lamination separation between the bottom plies of about one-half inch and that it had been previously reported in 2014 inspection.

Additionally, the 2019 inspection found several loose nuts, north arch longitudinal cracking, gaps in the bridge deck and bird excrement on the deck that could lead to more deterioration.

Nonetheless, the engineers at that time said that overall the bridge, while weathered and in need of general maintenance, was generally in good condition.