Preliminary designs for Sutliff Bridge presented

BY KATIE HEINE | MAY 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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An area just 20 miles north of Iowa City is preparing for a makeover.

After being partially damaged in the 2008 flood, plans to reconstruct the historic Sutliff Bridge are near completion. The bridge spans the Cedar River, and it is one of the longest and oldest Parker steel-truss bridges in the state at 113 years old.

Preliminary designs for the Sutliff Bridge were presented by VJ Engineering at a Johnson County Board of Supervisors work session Thursday evening. And the designs apparently pleased members of the audience, who had no questions or comments about the potential structure.

“The overall plan for the area is really exciting,” said Supervisor Janelle Rettig.

Tim McDermott, a structural engineer with VJ Engineering leading the Sutliff project, said he tried to maintain the site as it was, which he noted many people wanted at earlier work sessions.

“They were very vocal about what they wanted to see,” he said.

Under the new design, the bridge looks fairly similar to its original structure. The biggest aesthetic change to the bridge includes the trusses, which will be bolted together instead of pinned.

The change results in a slightly bulkier appearance, but bolted trusses are a more modern structural technique and create a safer connection, McDermott said.

While not much of the damaged truss is salvageable, the plan is to use some of the pieces from the original structure to create display boards at either end of the bridge, which will provide historical and educational information about the Sutliff Bridge and truss bridges.

Only a few design details remain before officials complete the design, McDermott said. VJ Engineering has set a target deadline of July 18 for the final design.

In a feasibility study conducted by VJ Engineering, the bridge project was estimated to cost approximately $1.7 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will fund the construction. Even if the county overbids on its estimate, FEMA will cover the costs, Rettig said. But the agency will only cover whatever will be included in the final design, she said.

“FEMA will pay for the project — not the estimate,” she said.

Eric Isaacs, a University of Iowa graduate student in urban and regional planning, is involved with revamping the area surrounding the Sutliff Bridge.

The 23-year-old and three other UI graduate students have nearly completed a “visioning project” to enhance the surrounding area with paths and other elements.

“It’s a historical site and they want to keep it like that,” said Isaacs.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan grew on a farm near Sutliff, and he said he spent his “whole life” near the bridge as a kid. And so did a lot of the locals.

“To people who have never been there before, they wonder how some place so remote can be so busy,” he said.

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