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Historic bridge bids come in higher than expected

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

LA CROSSE -- Bids for the reconstruction of a historic, three-arch limestone bridge already in danger of collapse are sharply higher than officials expected.

How that will affect the work is uncertain, given the bridge straddles the Rush and Russell county line 10.5 miles northeast of Loretta.

A joint meeting between the Rush and Russell county commissions is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 19 in Russell to discuss what to do with the bridge. Rush County has favored repairing the bridge, while Russell County has been in favor of building a new one.

Bids submitted to Rush County range from $137,260 to $277,920, said John Moeder, supervisor of the Rush County Highway Department. The engineer's estimate was $74,000.

It's an extensive project for the bridge, built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration spanning an unnamed tributary of the Smoky Hill River.

Rush County has proposed removing the three-arch bridge from the National Register of Historic Places, replacing it with a smaller two-arch bridge northwest of La Crosse that was built in 1946, also by the WPA.

The process of removing the bigger bridge from the list has been time consuming, but Moeder said it survived a 20-day public comment period and has been forwarded to the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington for final review.

There still are a few questions that need to be answered, he said, including verification the smaller bridge was a WPA project.

"There isn't a plaque on that structure," Moeder said of the smaller bridge.

So he's been diving into past county commission minutes, which have been incomplete.

"I didn't find a lot of information," Moeder said of reviewing the documents, many of which made references to WPA projects but never specifically pointed to the smaller bridge as among them.

"I've done a lot of research," Moeder said of the bridge project. "There just isn't a lot of good information."

Moeder said the Corps is withholding its approval because it wants the replacement bridge also to be a WPA project.

It's the cost, however, that's going to be a sticking point.

By transferring the historic designation to another bridge, contractors will have some latitude in repairing the three-arch bridge.

The plan is to install corrugated steel plates on the underside of the arches, building a set of concrete footings under each one.

Soil from the deck would be removed and a series of anchors and cables installed to pull the guardrails back to plumb. Currently, the guardrails are separating from the bridge, which makes it in danger of collapse.

Concrete would be poured into the removed deck.

From the top, there would be little change in the bridge's appearance, even though its historic integrity would be compromised.

Even with the higher-than-expected cost, Moeder said Rush County remains committed to the project.

"What's our alternative?" he asked, a reference to the increased truck traffic in the area as a result of a big boost in oil production in the vicinity of the bridge.