Covered bridge to stay closed for $57K repairs

By Ed Runyan

NEWTON FALLS — A young doughnut-shop delivery driver from Canton, unfamiliar with his vehicle and Newton Falls, drove the box truck through the historic Newton Falls Covered Bridge on July 10, damaging trusses and beams all through the structure.

The repairs, which will cost his employer’s insurance company around $57,000, will keep the bridge closed until sometime in January, said David Rouan, spokesman for the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, which is responsible for the bridge.

Meanwhile, Trumbull County commissioners have approved a reduction in the legal weight limit of the bridge from 12 tons to three tons to try to prevent trucks from using the bridge, Rouan said.

Work trucks of any kind were already prohibited from the bridge, and there is a sign that warns trucks to stay out, but Ryan M. Vallen, 22, of Canton, apparently didn’t realize that when he drove a box truck through the bridge at 2:30 a.m. July 10, Rouan said.

Vallen was on his way to a Newton Falls store to make a doughnut delivery for a Canton doughnut shop.

Rouan said the engineer’s office hopes that reducing the weight limit will further deter anyone from trying to drive a large vehicle into the bridge. Only passenger vehicles and pickup trucks are allowed on the bridge, Rouan said.

Unfortunately, even after hitting trusses and beams on his way into the bridge, Vallen kept driving, causing damage to the beams from one end of the bridge to the other, Rouan said.

A Newton Falls police report says the collision ripped off the top of the truck. An officer made a traffic stop on the truck at the Shop-N-Save Supermarket on Ridge Road, about a half-mile from the covered bridge.

Vallen told the officer he was new to the job and did not know the height of the truck.

A Newton Falls officer charged Vallen with hit-skip/failure to stop after an accident and failure to control, both misdemeanors. He returns to Newton Falls Municipal Court today.

Fixing the bridge, which recently underwent a major renovation that caused it to be closed between July 2005 and December 2007, will require repair and replacement of several trusses.

Because of the cost of the repairs, the job must be put out for competitive bidding in about two weeks. Repairs will probably begin in late November or early December, and the job will take about six weeks, Rouan said.

It took this long to get the repairs started, he added, because the insurance company hired its own consultant, and the consultant for the county and the insurance company had to meet to agree on an estimated repair cost.

The insurance carrier then rejected a bid from a company the county hired to estimate the cost of the repairs, and a second estimate had to be prepared, Rouan said.

The bridge, on Arlington Street, was built in 1831. It is the second- oldest covered bridge in Ohio and the last covered bridge in the state still being used in its original location.

The 2005 reconstruction project, which cost around $1 million, was delayed by a conflict between the former county engineer, John Latell, and BECDIR Construction of Berlin Center, the original contractor working on the project.

The project was eventually completed by a second company, and a lawsuit between the county engineer and BECDIR was settled earlier this year.

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