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Sutliff Bridge reopening brings new hope for community

BY TIERRA SIMPSON | OCTOBER 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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The 114-year-old Sutliff Bridge reopened to the public last weekend, and officials have high hopes for the bridge continuing to thrive.

“There was never any question in my mind that it would turn out to be a nice structure completed,” Johnson County Supervisor Pat Harney said. “I think it still serves that area very well.”

The 2008 flood washed away one-third of the bridge.

“It was very difficult to imagine it not being there,” said Randy Howell, the owner of the Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern.  “It’s just something we got used to seeing day after day. And to have a section of it gone was hard to get used to.”

Howell, who also grew up with the bridge, said 100 to 150 people watched to see whether the bridge would survive the flood.

“[There] were people as young as 2 and 3 years old up to the oldest one was 87 years old,” he said. “Everybody was just devastated. There were a lot of tears.”

With the support of the community, Sutliff Bridge Authority, and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, reconstruction on the bridge began in May this year, according to the VJ Engineering website.

Project manager Tim McDermott of VJ Engineering said the cost to restore the bridge was just under $1.5 million. Harney was hesitant to support the reconstruction because of the cost.

“Some of the hesitation was cost,” he said. “Granted the dollars were going to come from FEMA, it was still tax dollars. My personal feeling was that the amount of money that was [going toward the bridge] we could use those funds on another bridge or road project that would serve more individuals.”

Howell argued that because tax dollars were used, the funds should have gone toward the bridge. 

“I understand the cost,” he said. “Our feeling was if the county was going to get the money, then it should go to the [Sutliff Bridge], and if wasn’t going to go to the bridge, then it should’ve stayed in the taxpayers’ pocket.”

Supervisor Rod Sullivan sees the reconstruction of the Sutliff Bridge as a good investment for Johnson County.

“Thousands of people visit it every year, and they come to Johnson County and spend their dollars, and they wouldn’t do that otherwise,” he said. 

Officials say the new span was designed for pedestrians.

“It’s designed for pedestrian load, whereas the original bridge was designed for vehicles,” McDermott said.
However, the overall configuration of the new span looks similar to the original.

“I think the VJ Engineering did a very nice job of completing it,” Harney said. “You can hardly tell the difference between the old portion and the new portion.”

Since the bridge has reopened, Howell noticed the traffic of people it draws in every day.

“Seeing it restored has just been great,” he said. “I’m here every day for 10-12 hours a day, and I got people that are out on it. You got folks that are anywhere from 70s to young kids.”

Howell believes the bridge will continue to be a part of people’s lives for generations to come.

“We fought to maintain it,” he said. “It’s been a huge part of people’s lives for generations. People need to come out and take a look at it. It’s something that everyone can enjoy it doesn’t make any difference how old you are.”


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