J Highway bridge over Lick Creek to close five months for replacement

The J Highway bridge over Lick Creek at Howard’s Ridge will be closed beginning Monday, April 27, so that contractor crews can replace the heavily traveled structure. The bridge, built in 1948, was identified last year as one of 250 bridges in the state to be repaired or replaced. Times photo/Jessi Dreckman.

Locals may be tempted to use County Roads 511/528 to go around the closed J Highway bridge, but Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins warned that the road can be rough, especially after heavy rain, and crossing Lick Creek that way can be dangerous when the roadway is covered by water. A nearby resident agreed, saying the water there “is deeper than it looks.” Times photo/Jessi Dreckman.

The J Highway bridge over Lick Creek at Howard’s Ridge, about 3 miles south of Highway 160, will close Monday, April 27, as contractor crews begin work to replace the existing bridge, which was built in 1948. The bridge will remain closed until work is completed in mid-August, area engineer Elquin Auala told the Times Monday. 

The new bridge will be 26 feet wide and 236 feet long, Auala said, replacing the current bridge, which is 20 feet wide and 218 feet long. The new bridge will not be substantially higher than the existing bridge, and the J Highway roadway leading to the bridge from the north will not be raised, she said.

Of the 10,385 bridges in Missouri, the J Highway bridge is one of 250 bridge projects selected for repair or replacement as part of Gov. Mike Parson’s infrastructure investment program “Focus on Bridges.” It is the only Ozark County bridge on the MoDOT list. The replacement project was announced last year, and signs alerting motorists to the upcoming closure have been in place several months.

Contractor Phillips Hardy of Columbia was awarded the $1,481,739.65 contract during the Missouri Department of Transportation contract letting in February.

The road closure will be a five-month inconvenience for those who live in the immediate area and also for the many travelers who routinely use J Highway to drive between Ozark County and Mountain Home, Arkansas. That leaves Highway 5 south, on the west side of Gainesville, or Highway 101 through Bakersfield, on the east side of the county, as the main connector routes to Mountain Home during the closure. Another way around the closure is to head southbound on Highway 5 from Gainesville then travel east on T Highway through Mammoth to connect with J Highway on the south side of Lick Creek at Howard’s Ridge.

The closure will be especially challenging for the Lick Creek Volunteer Fire Department, which is headquartered in a building on the south side of Lick Creek and serves both sides of the creek in that area. 

June Rowlett, a volunteer with LCVFD, said other departments – Tecumseh, Caney Mountain and Gainesville – will probably be asked to respond in mutual aid to some calls on the north side of the closed bridge. Her husband, LCVFD chief Jerry Rowlett, will be talking with board members and the department’s other volunteers to decide how to tackle the challenge. Nothing’s been specifically discussed yet, June said, “because we thought we had another month to figure it out.” The department had previously understood that the bridge wouldn’t close until the end of the school year so school bus transport wouldn’t be impacted.

“It’s going to be a long summer,” she said. 

Locals who may be tempted to use County Roads 511/528 to detour around the closed bridge over Lick Creek are warned that those roads can be rough, especially after heavy rain, and the Lick Creek crossing, which consists of a short slab that leads to a rock ledge and then a gravel creek bottom, can be treacherous.

“You might go that way if you had a pickup, but you sure wouldn’t want to drive your Porsche through there,” joked Eastern District Commissioner Gary Collins. “For sure, no one should try to cross there when water is over the road.”

He added that the county’s Road and Bridge Department will “try to keep the road graded up the best we can for the taxpayers and bring in a little more rock to try and give a closer way through there. But if it keeps raining, we’ll have trouble keeping water off the road. It’s bad to wash out there,” he said. “We don’t want nobody getting hurt. We want everybody safe, and when the water’s up, we don’t want anyone trying to cross.” 

One local resident who lives nearby agreed. “The water there is deeper than it looks” when it flows over the crossing, she said.

Ozark County Times

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