The Union County Convention and Visitors Bureau is understandably proud of the region's seven covered bridges, not the least of which is the Buck Run Road covered bridge.
Built at a cost of $1.6 million, it was, at the time it opened in the spring of 2007, "the longest single-span wooden bridge in Ohio," according to a bureau brochure.
That impressive length -- 160 feet -- was a reason to brag until this August, when a routine inspection of the covered bridge showed, according to engineer Jeff Stauch, that "what we call the upper chords of the bridge had gotten a bit out of alignment."
Within two days of the inspection, Stauch closed the bridge to traffic while his department explored possible solutions to the problem.
"We could have kept the bridge open with weight restrictions, but there was no guarantee that vehicles would have adhered to the restrictions," Stauch said. "So instead we took the most conservative route, placing a premium on safety, and shut it down altogether."
The bridge, to the chagrin of area residents and to the Honda employees who used Buck Run Road as a shortcut to and from work, will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
The Buck Run Road Covered Bridge was designed by Smolen Engineering of Jefferson, Ohio, in Ashtabula County and constructed by the Righter Co. of Columbus.
"The problem has been described as a 'design flaw' but I don't think that quite accurate," Stauch said. "John Smolen has been very willing to work with us to correct the issue but the thing is, his company has been designing covered bridges for more than 10 years and he said he's never seen anything like this."
Because Smolen's insurance company will be defraying the costs to bring the bridge back into alignment, and because the operation will be difficult and pain-staking, Stauch said bids will go out sometime in December and repairs would begin in January.
"The bridge has to be jacked up in four or five places before the work can begin," Stauch said. "So that will be a laborious process."
He likened the bridge's trusses to attic rafters.
"You don't just support the structure with your roof sheeting. You support it with the rafters," he said. "The Buck Run Road Bridge is similar to that."
Covered bridges initially have a slight upward arc that eventually "flattens out after we lay the asphalt down," Stauch said. "But as the Buck Run bridge settled, it pulled the trusses out of alignment."
Prior to 2006, the Buck Run Road Bridge had been a more conventional steel truss bridge. Stauch said he has no regrets that the county decided to replace the steel truss bridge with a covered bridge.
"They are a real asset to the community," he said of covered bridges. "They are unique and they generally last almost twice as long as conventional bridges. They're also more environmentally friendly, which is important for a structure over the Big Darby.
"This is just one of those things. We could have had a problem with the roofing or HVAC of a new building. This just happened to be a problem with a covered bridge."