2 Kauai bridges near break point
Officials believe an overloaded truck is the cause of the Kauai structures' breakdown
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WAINIHA, Kauai » Two of the bridges along Kuhio Highway, the lone link from Hanalei to Wainiha and Haena, have been seriously damaged to the point where collapse is possible, officials with the state and Kauai County said yesterday.
While state workers expected to shore up the bridges yesterday, weight limits have been lowered and an emergency project is under way to replace them with temporary prefabricated steel structures. It is expected to take up to seven weeks.
The bridges are similar in design to the temporary structure installed at a third Wainiha bridge in 2004.
Until the project is finished, police and transportation officials will be on site 24 hours a day to make sure that no one crosses the bridge with a vehicle over 3 tons. The restrictions mean that primarily passenger vehicles will be allowed to cross.
However, exceptions will be made for emergency vehicles and businesses providing essential services, such as food deliveries and sewage and trash disposal.
An unknown truck, possibly over three times the posted weight limit, is suspected to have caused the damage, state officials said.
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WAINIHA, Kauai » Two Kauai bridges along the lone road on Kauai's North Shore have been deemed unsafe by inspectors and are slated to be immediately replaced, county and state officials announced yesterday.
Wainiha Bridges Nos. 1 and 3 were damaged between Oct. 24 and last Friday by what appears to have been an overloaded truck, said Brennon Morioka, deputy director of the Department of Transportation, Highways Division.
Of the 12 tension rods that support Wainiha 3, Morioka said, only two were functioning when bridge maintenance crews "observed and reported significant structural damage" last Friday.
State officials immediately lowered weight limits on that bridge, and later on the 40-foot Wainiha 1 bridge about a mile away when it was found to have structural problems, Morioka added.
State crews made temporary fixes to the bridges, and had expected to finish work yesterday on re-welding all tension rods on Wainiha 3 and shoring up Wainiha 1 as well.
Tension cables will be added as well to keep the bridges secure.
The Wainiha 2 Bridge, which sits 20 feet from Wainiha 3 as part of the historic double bridge over the Wainiha River, was replaced with a temporary bridge in 2004 when it was found to be in danger of collapsing.
Wainiha 1 and 3 will be replaced with the same steel-frame prefabricated bridge as Wainiha 2 by mid-December, Morioka said yesterday.
Gov. Linda Lingle has issued an emergency proclamation for the work, which is estimated to cost between $4 million and $6 million.
Until they can be replaced, the bridges will be monitored 24 hours a day by Kauai police and state transportation officials to make sure that no one passes through with a vehicle over 3 tons.
Exceptions will be made, however, for emergency service vehicles, trash and sewage disposal, propane delivery and food services, Morioka added.
Still, the lowering of weight limits will have a significant impact on residents and local business in Wainiha and Haena, said Haena resident Ron Venneman.
"It's a lifeline and it affects everybody," said Venneman, a Kauai Police Department officer. "All those commercial vehicles weigh over 3 tons."
Businesses, construction contractors and others will be hit by the bridges' structural problems. But Venneman said he was particularly concerned should an emergency occur in the area and the heavy firetrucks have to go over the river.
Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste said emergency personnel will respond as usual to any distress calls in the area, despite the fact that the lightest firetruck filled with water is 12 tons, and the ambulances weigh about 5 tons.
He also said he would talk to Fire Chief Bob Westerman about the possibly of leaving a full firetruck on the west side of the Wainiha River in case of emergency.
Police and state officials said they had no leads on the truck that allegedly caused the damage.
But Morioka said they were "fairly confident the damage occurred between Oct. 24 and 26" and was caused by "a very large truck" estimated to be between 18 and 20 tons, well over the previous 6-ton weight limit.
They can be sure, Morioka said, because the Transportation Department had been doing load testing for the bridges on Oct. 24 and 25. A structural assessment was done on the 24th, Morioka said, and the results were far different two days later.
All three Wainiha bridges were actually temporary bridges built in the 1950s after a tsunami swept through the area.
The three bridges are slated to be replaced with concrete structures, and the temporary fix will not deter those plans, Morioka said. The design and environmental review phases on that project are already under way.