ELKHART — The closure of the Sherman Street Bridge near Riverside Drive and Bower Street has been the subject of many questions for Elkhart residents.
As potholes are being mended and homes are being assessed and the damage from the February flood slowly becomes a distant memory for the majority of the county, the bridge remains barricaded and untouched, leaving residents to wonder if flooding damaged the bridge beyond repair.
“There is not any evidence on the deck of the bridge that would indicate there’s a problem with the foundation,” Elkhart County Highway Department project engineer Tom Rushlow said.
The Sherman Street Bridge was constructed in 1960 and the last major work done on the bridge was in 1979.
The cause for the delay in reopening the bridge stems from a unique law regarding its construction.
“That bridge, to the best of our knowledge, sits on what's called a ‘spread footing foundation,’” Rushlow explained, meaning that the pier is supported by a concrete slab that sits on top of the soil in the riverbed. The majority of the bridges in the county, instead, use ‘pile supportive footing,’ which uses a steel metal beams driven into the soil to provide a deeper foundation.
“Because of the type of foundation that bridge has if a certain level of flood event occurs, the state requires us to do an underwater inspection before the bridge can be opened,” Rushlow said.
So what’s the holdup? Divers were sent out over a month ago to assess the bridge, but the water’s velocity was too fast and it was deemed unsafe for them to dive.
“We’ve had enough rain after the flood that the volume of water is still substantial,” Rushlow said.
Water levels near the bridge reached 28.1 feet during the February flood, and remain near 20.5 feet today at the Johnson Street Bridge, where the gauge is located just a few miles away. Typical summer levels are closer to 18 feet.
“It should be getting close to where they can dive in,” Rushlow said.
Rushlow also confirmed that the bridge is the last remaining roadway closure within the county's jurisdiction caused by the flood, and all the bridges within the county, aside from Sherman Street, are safe to cross.
“We inspected all the bridges in the City of Goshen and a dozen bridges in the county that weren’t required to be inspected but we just wanted to be safe and see if there were any issues and we didn’t find any," he said.
Only one other bridge in the county sits on spread footing foundation, the bridge crossing Baugo Creek at County Road 26. It did not experience the same struggles as the Sherman Street Bridge because the water levels at Baugo Creek are lower, so inspections could be performed without a diver.