By Carol Kincaid
Bridge # GO453 sounds rather harmless. But, ask those who frequently cross the bridge north of Edina on Highway 15 about the perceived danger, and you might be surprised at the answers.
The bridge does not sit "true" to the highway, the approaching driver (northbound) must adjust slightly left, cross the bridge, then adjust right, then left to straight to cross the bridge properly.
Some drivers refuse to meet ANY other vehicle on the bridge. They stop on either side to let oncoming traffic cross before continuing. Others will not meet a large truck or tractor, but stop to let it continue.
When we think about it, this in itself can be a hazard, especially if driving north. If two or three vehicles are stopped on the north side of the bridge, another vehicle heading in the same direction could pop over the last hill coming out of Edina and cause a bad collision. The same thing could happen if the bridge was relegated to one lane.
Usually I am not afraid to meet another vehicle on the bridge, provided the oncoming vehicle does not cross the center line. I too, will usually give a large truck the right of way. One recent evening, after dark, I was headed north on the approach to the bridge and could see the running lights of a pickup truck that would reach the bridge the same time I would. Normally I would go ahead and cross, but for some reason I waited to let the pickup cross. The driver very kindly flashed his/her lights in appreciation, and it was then that I saw that they were pulling a trailer that would have probably hit my car had I proceeded.
How many drivers have lost side mirrors? There's no way to tell, many do not report the incidents, but just quietly replace their mirrors. I know I have.
Bridge 453 is sixteen feet- three inches in height, approximately, and about twenty feet- seven inches in width. The bridge was built in 1923, received new railings in March of 2003, and is slated for new "guard rails" this summer.
Bridge 453 has been inspected three times recently, twice for the gusset plates , which are the same type used in the Minneapolis bridge collapse. To date, MoDOT has released no final determination on the plates for this particular bridge. But unofficial reports say the bridge is very safe structurally.
The bridge has had a violent past. In December of 1965, an 18-year-old young man, "Bob" Calnan was killed in an accident on the bridge. Just since 2000, there have been several non-fatal accidents reported. In April of 2001 Tina Brogan and Tracy Howes were severely injured during a crash on the bridge. In March of '02 Mary Ann Kimball's vehicle ended up in the river. In July of '03 Tommy Small was hauling hay across the bridge and hit the side. In September of 2007 Rita Waibel was injured in a collision with the bridge. In May of 2007 one of the Knox County R-I school busses lost a mirror on the bridge, requiring the students to be transferred to another bus. One young student, though uninjured, was showered with glass from the mirror.
The legal limit for a trailer, according to Senator Wes Shoemeyer, was not too long ago increased to 102 inches. Consider this, the bridge is approximately 247 inches wide; today's school busses are approximately 112 inches wide, while those used in the years following the bridge construction were only about 84 inches wide. Trucks hauling gravel used to be about 72 to 84 inches wide; today's gravel trucks are about 108 inches wide (mirror to mirror).
Cars built in the 1920's, '30's, and even the '40's were much narrower, well able to meet each other on the bridge. In the 1950's, '60's, etc. the cars became wider, and remember the young man that was killed in 1965? Today's SUVs are approximately 88 inches wide or more.
Now, let's study farm implements. The old tricycle front ends probably weren't six feet in width, and the little gray or orange tractors weren't very wide either, even with the two row corn pickers on the front. Today, the farmer can look at a 15 to 18 foot transport width on anything he uses, more if he adds duals. The height of the bridge really isn't a problem, even for the spray coupes, but the width could be better.
Even the snowplows of today are wider than those used in the past.
While doing the math it would seem there is plenty of room on the bridge for most combinations of vehicles, but human nature doesn't always rely on the principles of math. To the human eye the bridge looks narrow and crooked. For self-preservation we stop if the oncoming vehicle does not. That is fine if one is southbound. But it is dangerous to stop when heading north.
MoDOT says they can't even talk about replacing the bridge because of lack of funds, unless the County would like to chip in funding. Anyone who lives on a gravel road knows that most of the County road funds are going for gravel and repairs. Besides, the bridge is on State Highway 15.
The Sentinel received a press release the end of February from Jeffrey Briggs at MoDOT saying how proud they were that Missouri and Illinois had come together and decided to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River. The new bridge is to "reduce travel delays, enhance safety, and sustain economic growth and development in St. Louis and Illinois."
The same could be said of this area. Who's to say that Edina and all of Knox County wouldn't be better with a wider bridge? How are the area farmers and over-the-road haulers to get the supplies to the metropolitan areas if we can't cross our rural bridges?
A public meeting is set for April 11 to talk about the bridge. Those who have said they plan to attend include Representative Brian Munzlinger, Senator Wes Shoemeyer, MoDOT officials, Regional Planning representatives, trucking firms and more.