PLATTSMOUTH – People from across the nation have enjoyed crossing the Missouri River on the historic Plattsmouth Toll Bridge for many decades.

Craig Jenkins, Stephanie Baribeau, Brian Schroeder and Josh Makela want to make sure residents will be able to take similar trips in the future.

The four Ayres Associates employees spent Wednesday morning climbing over a large section of the structure during their first day of inspection work. The Eau Claire, Wis., company will spend four days scouring the bridge for any signs of rust, corroded bolts or aging gusset plates. They will then deliver their findings to members of the Plattsmouth Bridge Commission.

Schroeder is a structural inspection supervisor, Makela is a structural engineer and Jenkins and Baribeau are both structural engineering staff members for Ayres Associates. The company has 12 offices across the country and has inspected more than 18,000 bridges from coast to coast. Workers have also performed more than 3,000 underwater inspections of bridge foundations.

The employees accomplished their Cass County mission Wednesday by wearing plenty of metal buckles, cordlocks, fasteners and harnesses. While others could use the equipment to scramble up Mount Rainier or Mount Hood, they used the gear to scale the peaks of the Plattsmouth structure instead.

“It’s a little bit like rock climbing,” said Jenkins, who also dangled from ropes to check the underbelly of the bridge during the day. “We use some different techniques and equipment than you would use on a mountain, but it’s the same type of process. This is the best way for us to get a close-up look at what’s going on at all points of the bridge.”

Jenkins said it was important to do a hands-on inspection because of the “fracture critical” rating of the Plattsmouth structure. The Federal Highway Administration says fracture-critical bridges need significant maintenance in order to prevent any potential collapse. Close-up examinations such as the one done by Ayres Associates can help keep the bridge safe for the public to use.

“Our biggest goal is to find which sections of the bridge are in need of repairs and what needs to be done first,” Jenkins said. “We want to help rehabilitate the bridge.”

The Plattsmouth Toll Bridge is a 0.2-mile structure that was built in 1929. It was closed for nearly eight months in 2008 as part of a federally-funded renovation project. A weight limit of three tons for traffic was implemented in 2015 after inspectors found several rusted steel gusset plates on the structure. Gusset plates are used to connect different members within a truss of a bridge. They can be fastened to permanent bridge members either by bolts, rivets or welding.

Repairs to several gusset plates and cross members on the bridge will take place on an intermittent basis over the next 120 days. There will likely be five additional closure times. Signs will be placed at various locations in both Iowa and Nebraska to indicate when the bridge will be closed for repair work.

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