After more than a two-year wait, relief is in sight for residents and business owners in River Rouge and southwest Detroit.
The Wayne County Commission voted 15-0 July 16 to award a $16.7 million contract to Anlaan Corp. of Grand Haven to repair the West Jefferson Avenue bascule bridge, which was severely damaged in the early morning hours of May 12, 2013, when the operator lowered it onto a passing freighter. Since then, both halves of the bridge - the north span in Detroit and the south span on the edge of downtown River Rouge - have been locked in the upright position so freighter traffic on the Rouge River is not impeded.
The bridge is expected to reopen to vehicle traffic in one year.
"I'm so glad that this phase of the project is finally beginning," said Commissioner Joseph Palamara, D-Grosse Ile Twp., who represents River Rouge. "Residents, and especially business owners, have been very frustrated with the delay, but this is a very complex job because of the damage above and below the water. That's why it's taken so long - the county needed to fully know the extent of the damage. Now, the repairs can move forward and the city of River Rouge can again benefit from the traffic when it resumes."
Commissioner Ilona Varga, D-Lincoln Park, who represents southwest Detroit, said the closure has been inconvenient for her constituents, too, with the state's closure of the nearby Fort Street bridge over the Rouge River compounding the issue.
"Residents on both sides of the West Jefferson bridge finally have an answer as to when it should reopen," she said. "It's a relief knowing that the end to this problem is within sight." County Department of Public Services officials previously had told commissioners that the northern span was jolted out of line by about 1 1/2 feet, and there was damage above and underwater. An outside company was hired to conduct an engineering study to determine the extent of the damage before repair bids were sought.
"It was a very technical engineering process to get it designed and bid out," Ron Agacinski, county Roads Division director of engineering, told the Commission.
Three qualified companies submitted repair bids, and Anlaan was the lowest. The contract is being paid via insurance money minus a $100,000 deductible paid by the county. Officials said the insurance company will pay $11 million up front and the remainder at the project's conclusion. There also will be about $500,000 in repairs not related to the incident, with that money coming from the county's road fund.
The Commission previously approved two contracts totaling more than $2.3 million - one for initial repairs to lock the bridge upright and one for the engineering study.
The West Jefferson bridge opened for traffic Oct. 17, 1922, and is the only pony truss bascule bridge still in use in Michigan. About 6,400 vehicles had been passing over the bridge daily, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
Complicating the commute for area drivers was the Michigan Department of Transportation's spring 2013 closure of the Fort Street (M-85) bridge so it could be replaced. The southwest Detroit bridge - which also opened in 1922 and crosses the Rouge River west of West Jefferson - is expected to reopen this fall.