Old U.S. 281 bridge is no more; blast knocks out communication services

MARBLE FALLS — Cell phone and Internet service and radio/TV connections went out as the old U.S. 281 bridge went down early March 17.

Shrapnel from the bridge cut the Verizon fiber-optic cable and nicked the sewer line. Crews worked into the evening repairing the holes in the sewer line and restoring phone and Internet service.

Thousands watching from Lakeside Park in Marble Falls cheered, not knowing they soon would be unable to Facebook, tweet or call their friends to spread the news the 77-year-old bridge was no more. KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune, which was broadcasting live from the scene, lost connection on location, instantly reverting to recorded music. TV stations covering the event live went black.

City and phone service officials confirmed a phone line was cut, limiting cell-phone and Internet services.

Officials re-routed 9-1-1 emergency calls to Burnet dispatchers after the outage. No emergency calls came in during that time, said Marble Falls Fire Rescue Chief Johnny Caraway.

“We realized immediately that we don’t have phones, so we don’t have 9-1-1,” Caraway said. “It automatically gets rerouted to Burnet County, so we don’t lose calls during that time.”

Wastewater runs through double lines, so no spillage happened, Caraway assured. Sewage was rerouted until the pipes were repaired about 8 p.m. March 17, according to City Manager Ralph Hendricks.

A temporary phone line restored phone and Internet services about 7 p.m. March 17, and a permanent line was placed the morning of March 18, Hendricks said.

Crews closed traffic to the bridge at 7:50 a.m. March 17 in preparation of the explosive detonation. The implosion occurred eight minutes past the scheduled 8 a.m. detonation.

After the blast, officers halted traffic for another hour as one charge did not detonate, according to Texas Department of Transportation officials. The charge was safely removed from the structure, and traffic resumed on just two lanes at 9:08 a.m.

TxDOT officials used specialized trucks to examine aesthetic damage to the west side and undercarriage of the new bridge. Some explosive charges did not detonate during the blast.

“That was part of the reason for closures being longer than we wanted,” TxDOT engineer Howard Lyons said. “The explosive expert did retrieve those, and it did go into the water safely. Everybody in the surrounding areas were safe; there were no injuries and no problems we know of with the adjoining structures.”

One large portion of the truss remained resting against the north concrete pier after the blast. Hendricks said the structure posed no threats to the new bridge or people near the bridge.

“They have it secured to the pillar that is there, and it is scheduled to be removed,” he said. “There are no hazards, so they are in no hurry. They are making all the pieces smaller and cutting it as they remove it from the lake.”

By the evening of March 17, a channel was cleared for boat traffic to pass under the bridge.

Officials from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported moving about 300 fish from 17 different species from under the bridge before the implosion. Crews in boats shocked the water near the bridge to stun the fish. When the stunned fish floated to the surface, TPWD crews used nets to scoop the fish out of the lake and into tanks in the boats. The fish were then taken about a mile downstream.

jared@thepicayune.com