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New structure in place by 2017, project manager says

SAVANNA – Folks can expect to drive across the new Savanna/Sabula bridge in 2017, the project manager said at a recent public hearing on the project's progress.

Members of the Illinois and Iowa departments of transportation were on hand Wednesday at St. John The Baptist Catholic Church in Savanna, and a PowerPoint presentation offered details of all phases of the project. A model of the new structure also was available.

The bridge, built over the Mississippi River in 1932, is "in need of a full replacement,” IDOT has said. At 20 feet wide, it is too narrow to meet current safety standards, and does not accommodate disabled vehicles or bicycle traffic. Wider vehicles are forced to overlap into the opposing lane, an obvious safety hazard.  

“As a vital connection over the Mississippi, its age and condition make the bridge's repair a necessity for travelers' safety and the well being of the entire area,” said Faith Duncan, Illinois project coordinator.

The bridge is being replaced in three phases. Phase one, preliminary engineering and environmental study, is over, and phase two, which involves contract plan preparation and land acquisition, has begun. Phase three is the actual construction.

The project is "right on schedule,” and feedback from the public has been "overwhelmingly positive,” Duncan said.

Bid letting is set for June, and construction should begin in August. Another public hearing will be held in the fall, she said.

It will take about a year to demolish the old bridge, and about 2 years to build the new "tied arch" structure, she said. “We would anticipate 2017 that people would be on the new structure.”

Asked about potential impact of the project on traffic and any possible closures, Duncan said that after the 2007 structural repairs forced a 30-day bridge closure, the public was "pretty vocal and we heard them. That's why we put the new alignment south of the existing structure so that we could maintain traffic for the community for the duration of the project."  

There will likely be a 1- or 2-day closure to tie in on the Iowa causeway, "because it's pretty tight over there. Otherwise, we're keeping it open."

Duncan said the same thing applies to state Route 84 to the north. "We might see it go down to one lane of traffic under signals in order to build the pavement, because it's kind of tight over there, but we're still maintaining access to the main 84 entrance to the park."

For a short time, both bridges will be present, she said.  That means "we are shifting the navigational channels toward Iowa ... that was to improve the profile on the structure. With the new structure and the old structure in the water at the same time, that reduced the opening for the barges to come through, so the Coast Guard gave them a 3-year window ...

"A lot of people had asked them to leave the old bridge in place, but they can't. They allowed the space to be reduced for construction purposes only.”

Duncan said the entire project will cost about $78 million. The federal government is paying for 90 percent, Illinois for 5 percent and Iowa for 5 percent.

The new bridge might have a mechanism that would allow its lights to be shut off when needed, to reduce shad fly attraction, and maybe motion sensors that also would reduce the costs of lighting the bridge.

There also is a "good indication" that the contractor might build the arch at a different location, such as a barge or a landfill, and then float it to site on a barge, the spectacle of which Duncan said would be a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

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