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Mehaffey Bridge project rolls along

BY CHRISTIAN HAHN | SEPTEMBER 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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When the new Mehaffey Bridge opens in the spring of 2015, it will have been closed for roughly 90 to 120 days versus the years it will have taken to build the new one.

This is a result of the decision by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to keep the existing bridge open during construction of the new one.

Construction of the bridge, which provides transportation from Solon to North Liberty, began in the spring of 2013 and was originally set to be completed in Nov. of this year. Now, after a harsh winter and flooding, this date has been moved back to the spring of 2015.

In 2013, construction was put off for four months due to flooding, and the contractor had to demobilize work twice, Assistant County Engineer Ed Bartels said.

“It was just a terrible time, but we thought we’d make up for it in the winter,” he said.

Unfortunately, he said, winter of 2013 was the 7th coldest winter on record, making it miserable for workers.

Flooding in 2014 further set back construction, but the structure is now up and has begun to take shape, Bartels said.

Bartels, and County Engineer Greg Parker, said stage one is complete and stage two is coming along smoothly, set to be finished Oct. of this year.

Phase three will include a trail section and is set to be complete by late Nov. or early Dec. 2014.

Bartels said stage four will not begin until optimum temperatures arrive in spring 2015, and completion of the entire project will follow shortly thereafter.

“The reason we’re replacing [the existing bridge] is because it’s structurally deficient,” Bartels said. “It’s actually getting close to being functionally obsolete.”

He said they could have torn the bridge down and started over, but decided against it due to logistical reasons. With the work they’ve done, they have managed to be transparent to the traffic on the existing bridge.

Additionally, the contractor has chosen to avoid bridge closures, even though he has the power to close the bridge at anytime for up to six weeks.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the county decided against closing the bridge due to an analysis performed that showed closing the bridge would cause a high increase in fuel costs for the drivers that cross the bridge every day as they would have to instead drive around the reservoir.

Parker said the county also considered issues of saving time. If the bridge had been completely shut down, he said he wasn't sure if there would have been a significant savings of time.

“I think it was a couple months, and with the floods we’ve had, it probably would have been worse,” he said.

Iowa Bridge and Culvert, the contracting company for the bridge, has saved the county $29,000 by making efficient adjustments to the original county design.

“They’ve had a lot of challenges and they’ve worked through them all in a wonderful manner, and I think the takeaway from this is: we work together and we get this project done,” Bartels said.

He said they could have torn the bridge down and started over, but decided against it due to logistical reasons. With the work they’ve done, they have managed to be transparent to the traffic on the existing bridge.

The existing bridge is maintaining a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. General maintenance is provided as needed, and two-lane traffic is currently maintained while the construction of the new bridge takes place underneath and on each side of the bridge.

Additionally, the contractor has chosen to avoid bridge closures, even though he has the power to close the bridge at anytime for up to six weeks.

Rettig said if the bridge had been torn down, the new one would not be completed by now, which would have forced residents to travel around the reservoir for more than two years.

“Yeah, I could have made the choice to shut it down and save a few hundred thousand dollars, but the people would have spent… significantly more than that, and we weren’t going to save but a couple months,” Rettig said.


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