Four years pass since Marble Falls bridge came tumbling down
Glynis Crawford Smith/The Highlander
The 77-yer-old US 281 bridge implodes on Sunday, March 17, 2017, witnessed by spectators in Lakeside Park and on Lake Marble Falls.
The Highlander reported on the implosion of the US 281 Bridge in Marble Falls in many editions, including on Friday, March 15, 2013, before the event and Tuesday, March 19, afterward. The stories below may spark your own memories of river bridges past or the day of the "blast" that made way for the new bridges that span the Colorado River in Marble Falls. Take a minute and share with us on Facebook:
Countdown to bridge implosion begins - Public to gather at Lakeside for historic event
Sunday implosion will end 77 years for the 281 bridge
Friday, March 15, 2013
One of the town's oldest landmarks will bring residents to Lake Marble Falls this weekend when demolition crews set off explosives, marking the end of the 77-year-old US 281 bridge.
At approximately 8 a.m. Sunday, March 17, the steel truss of the iconic bridge , built in 1936, will drop into Lake Marble Falls after it is cut into 30 pieces by controlled explosions.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), general contractor for the bridge project Archer Western, and lead subcontractor for the demolition, Omega Demolition Corporation, will oversee Sunday's implosion.
Residents or interested travelers can watch the historic event from Lakeside Pavilion, which the city has designated a public viewing area. Lakeside will open at 7 a.m. for the anticipated large crowd.
"It's something very unusual and something few people get to see," Marble Falls Mayor George Russell said. "The place we have set up for people is safe to watch and take pictures from. It's a significant change. That bridge is, really, the link between north and south around here."
According to Archer Western's demolition and safety plan - which had to be provided to the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), and Marble Falls Fire Marshal Johnny Caraway for approval - traffic will be stopped from crossing the new bridge structure about 10 minutes before the detonation by Marble Falls Police once the blaster - from Engineered Explosive Services, hired by Archer Western to conduct the implosion - determines everything is ready from a control location near the boat ramp in Lakeside Park. Neither TxDOT, Archer Western or Omega Demolition revealed to the media or to the public at meetings last week that a company other than Omega would actually conduct the implosion.
On the north side of the bridge, traffic will stop at Second Street, while First Street access will also be blocked off during the implosion. South side traffic will be stopped at the intersection of US 281 and FM 2147.
A total of six boats - two with Marble Falls Police, two for Marble Falls Fire Rescue, and two for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - will maintain a 1, 000-foot perimeter on both sides of the bridge beginning around 4 a.m. Sunday. This will continue for at least a full day after the blast while an excavator with grapple and clam bucket on a barge opens a 100-foot channel near the south side of the new bridge .
"We're confident we have what we need to clean all the debris out of the lake," Eric Hiemke, Archer Western project manager, said. He also said it would take an estimated six days to remove all debris.
Once traffic is stopped, the blaster will signal 5 minutes until implosion with three loud whistles. Archer Western workers will then make a sweep of the roadway and the new bridge structure to ensure no unauthorized people are in the blast area.
Two whistles will signal the one-minute countdown to the blast. When the clock hits zero, dozens of controlled explosives will go off within milliseconds of each other and cut the bridge into pieces. A cloud of dust and smoke is expected to take its place, but TxDOT assures residents this will not create a problem for any nearby homes or businesses.
TxDOT engineers will then begin inspecting the area to make sure the explosion went off without a hitch. They will also be inspecting the new structure, although no damage is expected to occur as the explosives will be placed to ensure the old bridge falls away from the new bridge span.
TxDOT expects this will only take about 10 minutes, at which point, barring no issues, the new bridge will be opened for traffic.
"We'll have several of our engineers walking sectors of the bridge ," TxDOT Area Engineer Howard Lyons said. "The 10 minutes is an estimate. The chances are very, very remote that the blast will affect the new structure."
Traffic is not expected to be stopped for more than 30 minutes.
For residents who will be staying in homes or businesses that are within 1, 000 feet of the blast, Tx-DOT officials and spokesmen have said there is no need to evacuate. However, those people are urged to stay inside, though no damage is expected to occur to any nearby structures.
Archer Western officials have said some debris that flies off during the implosion might impact River City Grille, and blankets to cushion the blast are to protect windows facing the lake. However, no other businesses, including the Chili's that sits next to River City, have been offered any protective measures, because TxDOT officials say they will not be affected by the explosion.
"Because of the way it is situated, the deck area [of River City Grille] will not be a safe area for people during a period of time around the explosion," TxDOT Public Information Officer Kellie Reyna said. "I'm told Chili's should be fine, because of the angle and location it sits to the bridge ." Both River City Grille and Chili's will be closed during the implosion, and both will open at 11 a.m. for normal business hours.
The nearby River View RV Park will have its lowest level on the lakeshore evacuated of people, but by the time of the explosion, no one will be living there after the dust and noise from the ongoing construction forced residents away and sent at least one of them to the clinic. The only remaining trailer is expected to be pulled out by its owners on Saturday.
Another implosion will stop boat and bridge traffic the morning of March 29, when explosives are used to detonate the concrete bases of the old bridge . Boat traffic will be stopped for about two hours, while bridge traffic is only expected to be delayed by a couple of minutes around the detonation, Reyna said.
'Awesome' the word of the day
But on the subject of a reaction, the comment was almost universal: "Awesome."
Frank and Nancy Foley from Oatmeal were headed out of the park for church with their four daughters and a niece, all with "Awesome" on their lips.
Maybe it was their worshipful destination already in mind, Nancy said, "But it made you want to clap and shout. It was great. I have a feeling that Heaven is going to be like that: awesome."
"History was made," said Teri Winn of Dallas, who entertained Edmond, Okla. relatives at her Horseshoe Bay lake home for their first big Spring Break event.
Given a day to mull over the experience, Sara Bindseil of Meadowlakes called it, "The best pyrotechnic display I have ever seen. It was heart stopping, mesmerizing. I was thunderstruck."
The crowd waiting at Lakeside Park had come from far and wide for the implosion that left them most near speechless at the end.
"We met a guy who came from Alaska, just for this," said Megan Parkinson of Marble Falls.
"The monks (from the nearby Buddhist monastery) promised to send us their video," added Jewel Early from Burnet. Jeff and RaeJean Commerford came from Emporia, Kan. to stay with Irl and Jackie Unruh of Meadowlakes and grab early seats for viewing. Nearby, three generations of the Young family shared a breakfast picnic as they waited for the big event.
"We came from Kerrville yesterday to see this," said Joshua as he held his year and a half old daughter, Abigail, alongside his wife Rachel and four more family members sharing a picnic breakfast.
It's like something for your bucket list, said Phil Vardamen of Lago Vista. "You didn't know about it before, but here it is.
"We heard that back in the 30s when the old bridge was demolished 30, 000 people came to the town that just had 2, 000 people then.
"I work in Marble Falls, so I go across the bridge every day," said his wife, Susan. "I had to see it."
"We remember when so many people died in that bridge collapse in Pennsylvania," said Pat Cauble of Meadowlakes. "They are saying this bridge is in that same category. We're glad they're replacing it."
For quite a few in the throng, the bridge implosion was part of a long personal history with the Colorado River, its floods, bridges and a face that changed when Lake Marble Falls was impounded by Max Starcke Dam in 1951.
"I was born in a little house right under that bridge," said Mary Lou Hernandez Guerrero, standing with grandchildren on the deck of the Lakeside Pavilion.
"I live in San Antonio now, but this was my hometown and my father would bring me back. When I cross that bridge I feel like I am home…so many happy memories, right there."
Blast Fells Historic Bridge - Credit cards, phone, Internet, ATM's affected
Verizon was not the only communications provider to have a fiber optic cable cut; a Northland Cable line was also severed during the demolition.
Many customers in Cottonwood, Horseshoe Bay, Blue Lake and Sunrise Beach lost Internet, phone and television service Sunday, Northland Cable Regional Director Larson Lloyd said.
"Mostly all customers were back on at 7 p.m. Sunday night," he said. "Most people were back on prior to that."
Lloyd said that the fiber optics were replaced Sunday and that he will seek restitution for the damages.
"I have visited with the contractors of TxDOT and everyone has been most helpful. Howard Lyons (TxDOT area engineer) has been very willing to get this thing taken care of."
The Verizon and Northland Cable fi-ber optic wires cut by debris from US 281 bridge implosion meant that many stores in Marble Falls could not process credit and debit card transactions most of Sunday afternoon.
That created "a lot of PO'd people, especially spring breakers," said Walgreen's store manager Melissa Crumley. "It was terrible PR for Marble Falls."
Many of the restaurants in town closed, Crumley said.
"There was a huge line at Super Taco because many people had to make do with whatever cash they had on hand - plus, it was one of the few places open. It was a total disaster for our visitors," she said.
Rita Robinson, an employee at the Shell gas station and convenience store on US 281 next to Super Taco said that the restaurant customers who usually used the ATM outside of the convenient store were not able to.
"The ATM machine, my cell phone and the store phone were all out," she said. "Super Taco doesn't have an ATM and doesn't take debit cards, so all of their customers come here to use our ATM."
Robinson said that more than 20 people were left without the cash they needed, and several travelers came in confused about the lack of communication connection.
"A lot of people came in and asked to use the phone because they couldn't make calls on their cell phones, but the land line wasn't working either," she said.
Unfortunately, the Shell wasn't the only highly trafficked gas station with issues.
"Our ATM, cell phones and land line was out," said Raymond Nelson, employee at the Texaco at the intersection of US 281 and RR 1431. Nelson said that about five people complained about the dysfunctional ATM.
"Frustration is to be expected when you come to use the ATM and it doesn't work," he said.
Many motorists were unable to buy gasoline to get home after spending spring break in Marble Falls and Horseshoe Bay, Crumley said, and some claimed they would not be returning to vacation in the area.
Jaymee Smith, front desk manager at the Hampton Inn, said that fortunately most of her guests were understanding about the issues with credit card billing.
"Because everything we use goes through Verizon, our whole front desk was shut down from the implosion ," Smith said, "so we couldn't check anyone in or out or make any reservations. Most people were pretty understanding. The people who were checking-out from over the weekend, we just emailed them the bill."
In addition to causing problems for visitors and putting many businesses between a rock and a hard place, the implosion also caused some physical damages to the River City Grille. "Our deck is fine, but we had a little more roof damage than we thought," said owner Paul Brady. "Shrapnel blew up patio furniture."
Brady said that Archer Western crews had protected the windows on his building with wrapping and boards prior to the implosion.
"I don't know how you can do a project that big and not expect damages," he said. "I think they weren't expecting as much shrapnel as we had."
The implosion also caused an 80-minute traffic delay on US 281. At its worst, the backups went from Sonic in the 1400 block of north US 281 to Charlie's Country Store and Café in the 1400 block of south US 281, offi-cials said.
"We knew there was going to be a lot of people," said Marble Falls resident Kay Zagst while walking to her vehicle parked at Century 21 on Second Street. "It's kind of like the Fourth of July Fireworks crowd. It was well worth it."
Unfortunately not all of the implosion viewers shared Zagst's positive attitude. Alice Rudenstein from Horseshoe Bay and Linda Cash of Victoria were stuck in traffic for nearly an hour after the blast.
"There's no other way to get home but Kingsland," she said while sitting in her sedan. "We expected this many people, but it would be nice to have more information about what is going on."
When lanes finally opened at around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday morning, only the two lanes on the east side of the new bridge were opening, causing traffic to be congested until the open of the west side lanes at about 5 p.m.
At least the fish are fine
The implosion of the US 281 bridge that knocked out a sewage line and two telecommunications lines hasn't had any negative effect on wildlife, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
"We didn't have any fish kills and nothing has been reported yet," said TPWD Kills and Spills Biologist Alan Butler on Monday. "It went very well as far as the wildlife are concerned. We minimized the impact."
The relocation of over 300 fish from the blast area to a place a kilometer downstream took about 2.5 hours, Butler said.
The crew also made a special trip to rescue and relocate a pair of domesticated white ducks that had befriended the Archer Western crew over the course of the construction of the new bridge . After what might be appropriately termed a wild goose chase out on the lake, the ducks were caught and brought to safety out of the blasting area prior to the implosion.
"We made eight or nine trips and saved 17 species of fish," Butler said.
The relocation of the fish was done by Butler and a team of volunteers including several students and biology professor Tim Bonner from Texas State University. The process included the stunning of fish with the use of a generator hooked up to a power box that was in turn hooked up to steel cables that ran a low voltage of electricity. The crew would lower the cables into the water and drive the boat around, stunning the fish under the surface. "It causes the muscles in the fish to lock up and they float to the surface," Butler said. "You have to have the correct voltage, otherwise it could kill the fish by causing them to jerk and snap their spine. We take a lot of quality measurements before doing this."
Butler said that if a member of the public finds a wildlife carcass on the lake or banks over the days following the blast, they should alert TPWD through the 24 hour hotline at 512.389.4848.
RV park residents shaken, OK
"My wife was peeking out the door and she was thrown backward," River View RV Park guest Don Armstrong said. "It was a terrific blast." His son Sterling said, "It pushed me backward," he said, staggering back to demonstrate the implosion 's impact.
The Sterlings were visiting Marble Falls; they live in San Antonio.
The quick, north-to-south movement would likely have been frightening to anyone watching outside their homes underneath the south end of the bridge. But no one was outside: Marble Falls police officers patrolled the park to make sure all stayed inside.
"There was no way I was going outside," Sandra Sedgwick said. "It shook my trailer and flames were coming off the bridge. Her children Carol, 11, and Justin, 13, tentatively emerged from their trailer and found everything to be OK.
But their mom and another resident said things were not OK.
"Debris hit my trailer but I'm more concerned about lead," Sedgwick said. "I know there was lead paint on the old bridge and I'm concerned that it was shaken loose and drifted throughout the park."
Resident Bobby Butter-field said a water line to the park was cut "in five places." Butterfield, whose trailer sits closest to the bridge, sought medical attention a week ago from dusty air caused by demolition of a deck underneath the old bridge. On Sunday, he said he "felt better" and decided to stay at home rather than evacuate for the implosion.
"It shook an emblem off my freezer and knocked some things down," Butterfield said. I'm going to check for other damage later."
"We're used to noise from the boat races," Patsy Greenlee said. "But this was quite a bit different. Still, it was exciting."
Many - if not most - of the residents left the park last week and had not returned for the implosion.