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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Crossing Over in the Valley: the Abridged Edition…

Riley Slough  Bridge Loop Road

One metaphor often “mixed,” or botched, even, is “that’s all water under the bridge,” meaning the past is past;  you can neither change nor retrieve it.Today I heard the trope misused again: “ That’s all water over the bridge.” Far be it from me to be Professor Metaphor, but it’s “water UNDER the bridge” and “water OVER the dam [not UNDER].”Both those man-made structures are built to address watercourses in some way: bridges to “bridge” water; a dam to hold it back. Water under a dam is not a good thing, nor is water over a bridge. But I guess  it’s better to misuse a metaphor than abuse the purpose of either structure.

Now if  you want to serve up your metaphor with “it’s  water over the bridge,” the Valley will accommodate you courtesy of Bridge 52 on the Lower Loop Road. Gladys and I slipped/slid our way across that silted road surface earlier this year after the flood waters from Riley Slough receded. Flood debris was obvious in both the upstream and downstream bridge rails. Water had indeed flowed… over the bridge.

On our way home the other day Gladys and I noticed an official white van parked just south of Bridge 155 on the Loop Road. Flashing yellow lights winked at us from the rear of the vehicle. We pulled alongside and noted the official tri-tree emblem on the side of the van shading the words “Snohomish County Public Works: for official use only.” Ah, official business, eh? When I see those words I always think: “Just what’s this official business  anyway; how will it affect me; and what’s it going to cost this taxpayer?” These days it seems Government is all too eager to meddle in our business. I decide to find out what this official County business is about, do some meddling of my own. After all, what business could be more “official” than the Ripple’s?Co. Bridge technicianTwo official business men have their noses stuck in maps when I pull up. “You fellows lost?” I say by way of making my presence known. “No,” the driver replies, “we know where we are and where we want to go but can’t find the road to get there.” “And where might your “go to” place be?” I inquire. At this point my interview stalls; the driver seems reluctant to share this information. “Strange,” I think, “what clandestine shenanigans are these guys up to!” Never before have I met a Government official in the Valley who was reticent in the slightest to talk with me (see posts 12/15/2010 and 2/23/2011). The driver, a fellow about my age and his co-officiant, a younger fellow about the age I used to be twenty years ago, became rather evasive. Sometimes tongues will wag when the press is present—especially if their owners are the newsworthy subjects. “I write a Valley blog,” I share, “just offering up the local news to my readers.” By their response  you’d have thought I was from the National Enquirer. When I asked if I could take their pictures, the passenger official exited the vehicle and put himself behind it. The driver smiled reluctantly and told me: “They don’t like us to have our pictures taken. “Why?” I ask. “You're not in a Krispy Kreme parking lot or at the drive-up window of a bikini espresso stand.” He just shrugged.

The driver at last ‘fesses up. Their official business? To conduct the mandatory two-year inspection of County Bridge 155. Bridge inspection? Where moments before mum was the word, now the information flows freely. I’m talking to a “Bridge Technician,” I learn, and the next thing I know, I’m getting a brief history lesson that takes me back to the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower (“I Like Ike!”) and the President’s desire to put in place a national transportation infrastructure so Americans could drive with ease throughout this great land and see its wonders up close and personal.

That infrastructure included bridges, of course.  And each bridge became a part of the transportation grid inventory. Thus the National Bridge Registry (NBR) was born. All traffic-bearing bridges in the country, twenty feet or more in length, are listed on the NBR. The Feds require each state to inspect its bridges every two years. This responsibility falls to the governance of each state county and parish in the country. I’m told bridge integrity is based on a scale of 1 to 100. Bridges with ratings of 70 and above require no special attention; less than that may result in minor structural repairs;Minor repairs needed ratings less than 50 usually mean weight restrictions on the structure (thus weight allowance signs for certain bridges); some bridges should just plain be replaced (I learn the old bridge spanning Broadway in Everett has a scary rating of 6).

The State Department of Transportation requires this bridge technician and his County office to inspect all 200 bridges in the County (including the metal footbridge over Wood’s Creek from Monroe’s City Park to Buck Island) and submit their reports to WSDOT. It’s time for the  two-year mandatory inspection of County Bridge Number 155.

At this point Bridge Technician Sr. and Bridge Technician junior grade don their official orange inspection vests, gather up their probes, hammers and clipboards, and make their way down the bank to inspect the underbelly of Tualco Loop Bridge 155. The Ripple asks, and is granted, permission to stumble along.

I can see why only trolls live beneath bridges. The underside of a bridge is not a pleasant place to visit. And that’s not just because of the stench of creosote. It’s dark, dank, and in my observation just a bit spooky, not unlike looking at the underside of your shiny automobile when it’s up on racks for service—less, of course, a slough and weeds.Co. Bridge troll Here’s a short biography of Bridge 155. She’s (don’t know if a bridge is feminine like a ship, but I’ll give the lady her due) a two span bridge, rated at 20-25 ton capacity. “Technicians” don’t determine this rating, I’m very quickly told; “engineers” determine the construction parameters of any given span based on ADT, “average daily traffic.” (You’ve all seen those rubber tubes spanning a section of road from time to time, the ones we’ve all jumped up and down on a few times so we can stomp and be counted—you’ve done it. I know…. That’s how ATD is determined.)  It’s ADT that gave BR 155 different structural specifications thaLower Loop Bridgen its sister bridge to the west on the Lower Loop Road. That bridge is all wood construction, a wooden deck surface and supports. Bridge 155 has a cement deck and asphalt surfacing. Technician Sr. shows me the imprints the wooden forms left after the cement was poured.cement decking He points out other things, too. (“Like bridges? I’d like to show you mine!”) I ask about the hot pink numbers and letters sprayed on the bridge pilings. “They’ve been ‘refreshed,’ he tells me, “painted over the old lettering. Lets other inspectors know the bridge has been checked.”pier 4 While the Jr. tech climbs through the weeds and cross timbers, his partner shows me the “flood flanges,” metal brackets fastening the bridge decking to the pilings. Both Riley Slough bridges, as Valley folks know, are in flood hazard zones. Flood waters could lift the bridge deck timbers and float them off the piers; without these metal straps, both bridges during flood events could become literal “floating bridges.”flood strap

By this time my nose was starting to twitch from the creosote, and I felt I had spent enough time in troll country. I thank Sr. for taking the time to share such “official”bridge information with the Ripple. I extend my hand, introduce myself. The handshake is returned but without an introduction. I believe this is the first time I’ve ever exchanged my name with a fellow without the courtesy of his name in return. There’s that evasiveness again. Strange…. Equally strange that he readily gives me the name of his supervisor and his partner “Mike,”although this could well have been an aka.

I clamber back up the bank into the sunlight and leave the two technicians to tap and probe their way through the underpinnings of the bridge, let them get on with the routine two year physical exam of Bridge 155. Astride Gladys again, I roll onto the bridge, think about that 20-25 ton traffic rating and shout: “Let me know if the bridge sags or sways as we cross!”

No answer other than the occasional heavy thump of hammers on wood. The two County trolls were hard at their work, official work….

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