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Delays ahead

Construction on Mehaffey Bridge to begin in April

JOHNSON COUNTY– Travelers between North Liberty and Solon, prepare for delays ahead. Mehaffey Bridge will be under construction for the next two years.
At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors approved a bid for replacement of the aging structure spanning the Coralville Reservoir between the two communities. The wining base bid of $8,865,974 was offered by Iowa Bridge & Culvert of Washington, Iowa. Lookouts along the bridge’s separate multi-use trail will also be included, for an estimated total project cost of $8,904,245.
Replacing the 50-year-old bridge has been on the county’s Five Year Construction Program for quite some time, but the county has been waiting, unsuccessfully, for federal assistance to help pay for it.
Finally, Johnson County supervisors voted to bond for the project, a revenue source that the state only recently made available to counties for road improvements.
“It was disappointing because we tried for five years to get some subsidized federal funding since it does go over a federal reservoir, but we never did, although they have done it for other projects in the area,” said supervisor Pat Harney. “I think it was in their interest as well as ours.”
However, the county did receive about $1 million in federal funds to construct a pedestrian and bicycle trail as part of the overall project.
It was the second time around for getting bids on the project. Last winter, the lowest bid came back at over $10 million, so the project was re-organized and sent out for bids again. Just two contractors responded this time.
“I am disappointed there weren’t more bidders,” said supervisor Janelle Rettig. “I suppose it’s just the size and scope of the project, requiring a different skill set.”
While re-bidding the project resulted in significant savings, Rettig was still suffering sticker shock last week.
“I hope to never have to vote on a bridge project this large again. So if people wonder why supervisors lobby for an increase in the Road Use Tax Fund, this is why,” said Rettig, referring to revenues the state derives from taxes and fees on vehicle registrations, licenses and fuel. Part of those revenues are allocated to Iowa’s counties and cities and used to finance road maintenance and improvement projects.
“Our infrastructure is deteriorating across the entire country, and we have bridges that are at the end of their useful life,” Rettig said. “In this case it’s one that is 50 years old and costs $9 million. No doubt the project needs to be done before it deteriorates further, but this is why local governments are clamoring for an increase in the road use tax. I hope this is the last time I vote on a nearly $9 million bridge.”
Once the contract with Iowa Bridge & Culvert is finalized, the contractor and Johnson County Secondary Roads Department officials will make a construction schedule and schematic designs available to the public. County engineer Greg Parker said he expects a public meeting to be held in March in North Liberty to share all the relevant information and receive public input.
The general plan is for construction to begin as early as April 1. While delays are inevitable, the hope is for the contractor to keep at least one lane of the bridge open at all times, rather than close the entire pathway for long periods of time. Speed limits in the construction zone will be reduced for safety purposes. A detailed construction schedule will remain unknown until the county formalizes the contract with Iowa Bridge & Culvert, but the county will make every effort to provide regular updates on progress and notifications of any closures.
“This is a big deal for people,” acknowledged supervisor Terrence Neuzil. “We know it will draw a lot of interest from residents who use that pathway between North Liberty and Solon.” According to recent traffic counts, the bridge is used by an average of 3,410 vehicles per day.
In 2014, the second year of bridge construction, two and a half miles of Mehaffey Bridge Road will also be getting a widening and resurfacing upgrade, from Sugar Bottom Road to Penn Street in North Liberty. That project will be done in collaboration with the City of North Liberty.
“The goal is to try to have the paving of the road and paving of the bridge taking place at the same time,” said Parker.
Finally, the multi-use trail will be added alongside the roadway as the county’s awarded federal funding is made available. Construction on the trail is slated for summer of 2016.
“It’s safe to say the whole area is going to be under construction for the next three to four years, but in the end it is going to be very nice,” concluded Rettig.