Bridge issue crossed during county court

McCulloch County Commissioner Nelson Solsbery has one decision weighing heavily on his mind’leave a historic bridge open to traffic or close it for safety and liability concerns. Attended by Coleman County Commissioners and one Waldrip area resident, the Monday meeting of the McCulloch County Commissioners Court saw much discussion of the old Waldrip Bridge, the bridge that spans the Colorado River between Coleman and McCulloch counties In response to safety concerns and liability issues, Coleman commissioners recently voted to close the bridge. Until Monday’s meeting, no action had been taken by McCulloch County officials to physically prohibit traffic from using the 90-year-old bridge. After much discussion of the historical significance and what options existed, the court took no formal action on closing the bridge from the McCulloch side. The decision of closing the bridge, however, was left up to Solsbery, the commissioner of the precinct in which the bridge is located. “I believe it is in the best interest of the County to close the bridge,” said County Judge Randy Young “at least until we research what options we have at rebuilding or refurbishing it. The county’s liability has doubled since Coleman has closed their half of the bridge. If something were to happen, it would be solely our responsibility.” Kirby Powell, a resident of the Waldrip area, presented to the court a possible solution that could assist in financing the reconstruction and refurbishment of the historic bridge. According to Powell, there is a state program for bridge replacement and rehabilitation that might possibly fund the repair of the old bridge. The program repairs bridges that are functionally obsolete or structurally deficient as long as they have been selected by the Texas Eligible Bridge Selection System. The program is part of the state funded Unified Transportation Program and if the bridge qualifies, both federal and state funds would be available to refurbish the bridge. “This bridge has a lot of historical significance,” Powell told the commissioners. “There are a lot of people in that part of the county that don’t want to see the bridge closed. I cross it at least four times a day, but that is not the only reason I don’t want to see the bridge closed. This bridge holds a lot of meaning to a lot of people.” Throughout the discussion, the distinction of whether or not to close the bridge to vehicular traffic and tearing the bridge down was made. The general consensus of the commissioners and the members of the audience was that the bridge did hold historical significance and the real issue at hand was the safety of the bridge in supporting vehicles that travel across it. Solutions to finding a secondary crossing nearby were discussed, but no solutions were found. The bridge discussion ended with the agreement that the commissioners would research the costs associated with obtaining a feasibility study to give the commissioners in both Coleman and McCulloch an accurate idea of what will be involved in bringing the bridge up to modern safety specifications. In a surprise event at the meeting, McCulloch County Constable Bill Shepherd tendered his resignation in conjunction with a similar letter of resignation presented by his wife, Margaret, who was serving as a deputy clerk in office of the Justice of the Peace. Shepherd cited no official reason for his resignation, but Mrs. Shepherd stated her reasons as being unable to satisfy her superiors with her work efforts. During Monday’s meeting, the commissioners also heard from Jane Penn, director of the Heart of Texas Education Co-op. She addressed the commissioners to ask permission to construct a handicap access near her business on the northwest side of the square. After some discussion, it was decided that the City needed to be contacted once again to ensure the request did not need to go through city channels. From there, it was also determined that the commissioners would seek other solutions utilizing the sidewalk space at the opposite end of the block to construct an appropriate ramp access. In other items discussed, several budgetary items were approved. One that will transfer money from the general fund to a special ad valorem fund was approved to correct a budgetary oversight that should have been corrected last year. A second budgetary amendment was made to satisfy the financial obligation associated with the expense of paying overtime compensation in the county attorney’s office. The amount spent will be approximately $4,600 which will alleviate any further legal obligations of the county. The commissioners also approved a letter of engagement for an independent auditor for the 2000-2001 records and approved line item changes made by the county treasurer. A $40,000 adjustment was made to the current annual budget to make up for the deficit in the juvenile detention department. The volume of juvenile cases over the past year has caused court-appointed fees to rise sharply. They also approved a $500 computer program training request for the County Attorney’s office to assist a new employee in learning the program used by the hot check writer’s program. The two-hour meeting adjourned following brief discussions with the county attorney about performing slight modifications to her office to provide privacy for discussions within her office.

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