WAILUA — The mauka Wailua Bridge is closed until further notice while crews address problematic erosion around the piers and bridge abutment that are making the bridge unsafe, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.
The bridge has been mostly closed off since mid-March floods sent a cascade of cut trees, branches, stumps and other debris down the Wailua River. That debris caught on the piers of the bridge and piled up, causing flooding in the area and damaging the bridge.
Crews rerouted traffic across the adjacent Mayor Bryan Baptiste Memorial Bridge to clear the pile of debris that was stacked against the mauka bridge and then reopened, only to once again close the bridge to any traffic a few days later.
Now, semi-permanent markers indicate the contraflowed traffic patterns over the makai bridge, creating two-way traffic across the bridge and then splitting traffic back into regular lanes on the south side of the crossing.
Wednesday, HDOT announced weight limits on the Bryan Baptiste Memorial Bridge – the makai side cane haul bridge – reducing the limit to 20 tons.
“This weight reduction does not have any effect on passenger vehicles, which typically weigh two tons. Emergency vehicles may be affected. HDOT is coordinating with county emergency response on access to the areas for their vehicles,” HDOT officials said in a Wednesday announcement.
Commercial vehicles and trucks with routes taking them over these bridges should apply for an overload permit or adjust their loads.
HDOT says their staff is still assessing damages and finalizing repair design, but said the main problem is heavy erosion damage to the concrete reinforced wall near the north abutment of the bridge, and scouring causing instability around some of the piers.
“HDOT is continuing inspections of other bridges considered at risk of scour during flood conditions,” the entity said in a news release about the repairs.
Following the 2019 floods, HDOT did a scour prevention project on the mauka Wailua Bridge, fortifying some of the bridge’s piers with a mixture of sand and cement.
The piers with freshly strengthened foundations held solid through the March 2020 flash flood, those that hadn’t been bolstered didn’t hold up so well according to HDOT officials, which said in the release that the scour countermeasures “largely protected the piers on which they were installed”.
The bridge is now the only place where contraflow is in effect, thanks to stay-at-home and work-at-home orders. The regular southbound contraflow between Lihue and Kapaa has been suspended since March 25.