Historic Sutliff bridge to be rebuilt


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To the community of Sutliff — located approximately 12 miles northeast of Iowa City — an old bridge heavily damaged three years ago was more than just a way to walk from one bank of the Cedar River to the other.

"I'm looking forward to seeing four different couples who are waiting to get married on the bridge," said Randy Brannaman, the president of the Sutliff Bridge Authority. "We have a World War II veteran who used to fish off that bridge; he was afraid he'd never see it up again."

Despite hesitation from some on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, reconstruction of the Sutliff Bridge is scheduled to begin next fall. Supervisors signed a contract Thursday allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reconstruct the historical landmark, which lost a third of its structure in the 2008 flood.

The bridge was eligible for FEMA funding since 1999, when the structure was enlisted under the National Register of Historic Places.

Tim McDermott, bridge project designer at VJ Engineering, said the cost will be just shy of $1.6 million and construction will end by August next year.

Supervisor Pat Harney said the county should focus its resources on the Mahaffey Bridge, for instance, which he said would be more practical for transportation reasons. The Sutliff Bridge isn't equipped to handle vehicles.

He also voiced concerns about the restoration of the bridge.

"One of my major concerns is that it was not going to be brought back to its historical significance," Harney said. "The historical significance of it would not be the same as it was before now."

Brannaman said many in and around Sutliff will be excited to see the bridge back.

"It's somewhat of a eyesore not having the old bridge there," Brannaman said. "The bridge was there for 111 years. You're gonna miss something."

Sutliff is a small community located next to the Cedar River in the northeastern corner of Johnson County.

The town is known for the Sutliff Bridge — listed under the National Register of Historic Places since 1999 — nature trails, and Baxa's Tavern and convenience store.

In addition to the reconstruction of the bridge, supervisors said at their meeting Thursday they're pleased to see the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning graduate students working with Sutliff community members on a project to improve the nature trail next to the river.

"It will be nice to see that even what Mother Nature can take down, we can get back up and going again," Brannaman said. "I think it will be a good investment."

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