The status of several bridges and the 911 communications system were the primary items for discussion at Monday’s meeting of the Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the Nebraska Department of Transportation to inspect the county’s four fracture-critical bridges in 2019.

County Highway Superintendent Linda Grummert said the state has been inspecting their fracture-critical bridges for the past 10 years, but this will be their last inspection. Going forward, the county will be responsible for that task.

Grummert added the truss bridges, which date back to the 1930s, are examples of fracture-critical. All of them are on gravel roads in Scotts Bluff County.

“A fracture-critical bridge is a two part bridge and if one part fails, the entire structure fails,” Grummert said. “Inspections on those bridges are what we call arm’s length. That’s how close we have to be when we inspect the structure.”

Scotts Bluff County has four fracture-critical bridges, all with posted load limits because they’re large structures. Other counties across the state have many more of them.

She estimated replacement in case of bridge failure could run in the neighborhood of $500,000.

The county performs around 150 bridge inspections each year, so adding fracture-critical bridges isn’t a big increase. However, the inspection process is more rigorous. While inspection reports for most bridges include three to four pages of paperwork, the fracture-critical inspection report is 12 pages, since it requires personnel to go into more detail.

In another unanimous vote, commissioners approved the one bid they received for the county’s 911 communications tower relocation project. The county advertised for bids from companies interested in doing the work, but they received only one from Action Communications for $278,960.

Ray Richards, 911 communications director for the county, said the current tower on top of the county courthouse building has been in use for the past 40 years and is “pretty much in hospice” and is in need of replacement.

Richards said the county had received a conditional use permit from the City of Gering to build the new 150-foot tower just west of the old county jail on 11th Street. He added the Action Communications bid is only for the new tower and removing the old one. The county has to get a generator and some HVAC equipment, but will still be under the $500,000 projected for the entire project.

One of the other requirements is the new tower must be enclosed in decorative fencing and have surrounding landscaping because it’s located in the downtown Gering business district. It’s still unknown how the cost would work into the county budget, but Richards said they could secure some grant funding to help with the cost of the project.

“We’ll start readying the site this week,” he said. “We want to be done before Halloween. That means we have a lot of excavation to do, rebar, pouring concrete and all the rest.”

He added the new tower has a massive grounding system that meets the current codes and best practices. The tower itself should arrive in about a month.

Once the new tower is up and operating, there’s room for some growth for additional communications functions. The county has been in discussions for possibly providing nighttime law enforcement dispatch services for Kimball and Morrill counties, as well as the City of Alliance.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.