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County agrees to proceed with inspection of Sutliff Bridge

IOWA CITY– The Johnson County Board of Supervisors took another step in deciding the fate of the historic Sutliff Bridge last Thursday.
At their informal meeting on July 2, the supervisors unofficially agreed to enter into contract with VJ Engineering of Iowa City to conduct an inspection and feasibility study on the bridge, part of which was destroyed by flooding in June 2008.
County Engineer Greg Parker said just two firms responded to a committee’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) sent to consultants.
“We sent the RFQ to four qualified candidates,” Parker reported. “Two sent back ‘thank you, but no thank you’ letters.”
Of the two firms who did respond, VJ Engineering’s bid of $19,500 was the low bid, undercutting a $56,650 bid from Calhoun-Burns and Associates from West Des Moines.
Parker said VJ Engineering will conduct a complete inspection of the existing structure, according to standards set by the Federal Highway Administration. Once the condition of the bridge is assessed, the feasibility study will help determine how to proceed: whether to remove the surviving spans, repair them, or replace the missing span that was washed away by the Cedar River last June. If the western span is replaced, Parker added, it would also need to be decided whether it could be built to match the historic nature of the remaining structure.
Supervisor Pat Harney asked about the significant difference in the two bid amounts. Parker responded that the RFQs were similar, and VJ Engineering’s bid included all of the necessary qualifications for a complete inspection and feasibility study.
The approval of the contract between the county and VJ Engineering is expected to appear on the agenda of the supervisor’s formal meeting July 9.
The county reassumed responsibility for the historic bridge in April 2009 after learning that the Sutliff Bridge Authority, the non-profit group that had leased and maintained the bridge since 1984, could not receive flood repair funds from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) but the county would be eligible for assistance.
Supervisor Larry Meyer has been working with FEMA to keep the project moving along. Meyer said FEMA funding would cover a variety of flood-related clean-up and restoration steps, including debris removal and disposal from the damaged part of the bridge.
“It’s layer upon layer of bureaucracy,” Meyer told the board. After the meeting, Meyer remarked about people’s continued desire to save the bridge.
“In all the conversations I’ve had with people, only one person thought it should be demolished. The sentiment for keeping it is overwhelming,” he said.