BUTTE COUNTY — Butte County closed the Orman Road Bridge over Horse Creek west of Newell Thursday due to structural integrity and safety concerns.

Dwayne Heidrich, county highway superintendent, told the Pioneer Thursday that a state bridge inspector examined the structure and recommended the county close it immediately.

“He was afraid that one of them was going to break and then, of course, it would fall in,” Heidrich said. 

Heidrich and his crew closed the structure with barricades and signs to warn the public of the danger. 

The county highway department, in conjunction with Brosz Engineering, the county’s contracted engineering firm, have been closely monitoring the bridge’s condition since last spring. In 2019, runoff from a spring storm partially disabled the structure, causing part of it to sink approximately six inches into the ground beneath. 

Floating debris and ice flow damaged pilings and other bridge components spurring the county to lower the posted weight limit on the bridge from 18 tons for a single unit and 31 tons for combination vehicles to four tons gross weight, or “essentially a three-quarter-ton pickup.” Additionally, the county closed one side of the bridge deck that was precarious due to the sinking, and left one lane of travel open, trying to stretch the structure’s useful life while it worked on alternatives.

In August 2019, the county was awarded a $2.24 million federal grant, in conjunction with Meade and Lawrence counties, to replace the Orman Road Bridge. Included in the funding package were funds for one Meade County bridge and two Lawrence County bridges. 

The grant program requires the county match at least 20% of the total cost. Kim Richards, county comissioner said the replacement project, estimated at approximately $700,000, likely won’t be started until 2022.

Knowing that the replacement would be pushed off a ways, due to funding issues, Richards said the county prioritized the replacement of the Winkler Road Bridge, located south of the Orman Bridge, to offer a detour for some of the area residents. 

Winkler Road Bridge was opened for public travel on Feb. 7, with no time to spare. 

“It’s still going to be a huge inconvenience for a lot of people because Orman Road is the main connector (of that part of the county) to town,” said. “But we’re just kind of at a loss for what we can do.”

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