Private bridges are where a private road or driveway crosses a river, stream or other waterway.
Many of these private bridges were built decades ago without permits, plan review and oversight. Some have never been inspected by a qualified engineer since their construction, and no documentation exists for how much weight, or “load,” they can handle.
Without information about a private bridge’s condition, fire districts might be reluctant to drive heavy vehicles across a private bridge. If responders do not cross a bridge, they will make every effort to reach the location, including carrying medical equipment or running hoses for extended distances.
This, in turn, adds critical delay to providing fire and medical response and increases the potential for more severe property damage and the possibility of more serious injury.
For an example of how private bridges can collapse under the weight of fire engine, watch news coverage of a January 2019 residential fire and bridge collapse in North Carolina.
Clark County's approach
In May 2012, the Board of County Commissioners approved amendments to Clark County code regarding private bridges.
County officials worked cooperatively with firefighters from local fire districts and representatives from private engineering and law firms to come up with a balanced approach.
The code changes created standards for the construction of new private bridges. These standards are expected to reduce construction and repair costs for new bridges.
For existing bridges, the standards require action only if additional homes or structures are built or new lots are created. In these cases, developers or home builders could choose to have the bridge inspected and upgraded or, alternatively, provide fire-resistant construction, such as building homes with fire sprinklers.
Clark County recommends that every private bridge be inspected by a qualified engineer every five years. However, if property owners and residents living near a private bridge decide not to have their crossing inspected and possibly upgraded, they need to understand this could affect response during a fire or medical emergency.
For more information, watch this 2012 CVTV video, which was produced before Clark County adopted local standards for private bridges.
Clark County and local fire districts hosted a series of three open houses in different parts of the county in late January and early February 2012 to meet with residents and answer their questions. Prior to the open houses, Clark County sent an informational mailer to people living near a private bridge.
In addition, county officials have met with a variety of groups to get their thoughts and comments, including the Clark County Development and Engineering Advisory Board, the Building Industry Association of Clark County and the Clark County Association of Realtors.
- Answers to common questions about private bridges (updated December 2015) (PDF)
- Private engineering firms that provide bridge inspections in Clark County (PDF)
Clark County Community Development
360.397.2375 ext. 3324
Carolyn Heniges, P.E.
Road Maintenance and Safety Division Manager
Clark County Public Works
360.397.6118 ext. 1626