Morgan construction bridged to referendum

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11708784125058.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘What the Morgan Street bridge may look like by 2014.‘);

The City of Rockford held a public hearing Jan. 31 to discuss proposed improvements to Morgan Street and College Avenue between Main and Kishwaukee. The project also includes the removal and replacement of the Morgan Street bridge.

Under a plan depending on passage of the sales tax referendum on the April ballot, Morgan Street will be widened from two to four lanes between Main and Seminary. College Avenue will widen from two to three lanes between Seminary and Kishwaukee.

New traffic signals, storm drains, curbs, gutters, lighting, landscaping, signs and a multi-use bike path are also promised.

The hearing, held in the Jane Addams Community Room, was attended by residents of areas affected by the project.

Rich Kerhlikar, an engineering consultant from Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, Inc., began by stressing the relocation of some Jane Addams residents is unrelated to the improvements.

“This roadway project has come after the Rockford Housing Authority’s plan to relocate the residents,” Kerhlikar explained. “The road project is not causing the demolition.”

By far, replacement of the Morgan Street bridge will be the biggest undertaking of the project.

The open spandrel concrete arch bridge was built in 1917, underwent major reconstruction in 1959 and another major rehabilitation in 1983.

A 1999 bridge condition report, however, brought grim news for the bridge that otherwise met all requirements for historical preservation.

“The result of that study was that the bridge needed not only to be rehabilitated, but completely torn down and rebuilt,” explained Jon Hollander, city engineer and project manager.

Kerhlikar and Hollander addressed the significance of banning truck traffic from the bridge in the meantime.

“Trucks really cause a tremendous amount of damage to any bridge,” Kerhlikar reported. “This bridge deck is very fragile, and cars do not cause nearly as much damage.”

Hollander added, “We elected to put the ‘No Trucks’ sign up to extend the useful life of that bridge, for at least automobile traffic.”

Hollander noted freezing and thawing also take a heavy toll.

To counter this, the city occasionally performs spot repairs to buy more time for the ailing structure.

“We’re just trying to keep the bridge serviceable for cars, until the time that we can actually tear it down,” Hollander said. “We try and repair the damage that’s done by the weather every year, and that’s what those closures are. In the next month, hopefully, you’ll see some closures that may last a couple of weeks, but that’s gonna be part of doing our soil investigation.”

Residents along South Main Street are no strangers to the bridge closures.

Celena Quinonez recalled a recent one lasting all summer, which she said was the talk of the south side.

“‘I’ll be glad when they open the bridge,’” Quinonez quoted neighbors. “That’s all you heard.”

Quinonez said she uses the bridge every day. Despite thinking the improvements are long overdue, she dreads the inconvenience of losing use of the bridge during construction.

“For two years without that bridge, it’s just gonna be a nightmare to me,” Quinonez reported.

According to Hollander, traffic will be re-routed to the 15th Avenue bridge.

Because of a relative lack of amenities along South Main, the project is bound to inconvenience residents who rely on the Morgan Street bridge to access the plentiful east side.

Quinonez feels the city has ignored the largely Hispanic area for too long.

“Why it got neglected for so long, and why they let that bridge be the last one in Rockford to ever get attended to, was because of the area,” Quinonez alleged. “That’s the only bridge that you can go across and see weeds growing, and it’s let go like that. I’m sure the East State Street bridge…they would never let it get to this condition.”

“Sometimes, when you neglect something for so long, there’s no hope in bringing it back,” Quinonez added.

Quinonez is optimistic, however, that the new steel-tied arch bridge may help the area’s economy once completed, and that the River District will extend farther south to include South Main.

“If a new bridge is there, then people might want to grab on to that and branch on to that,” Quinonez hopes.

With an estimated total cost of $34,917,000, Hollander said the city’s share would be roughly $8 million. The remainder would be paid for in federal dollars.

Asked about the importance of the 1 percentage point sales tax increase on the April 17 ballot, Hollander replied, “That would be our primary funding source for the city’s share.”

The tax increase would raise an estimated $16 million annually for five years to fund infrastructure improvements throughout Rockford.

Hollander said if the referendum fails, the timetable for the project would be set back.

This wouldn’t be the first delay it’s seen. According to the City of Rockford’s 2005-2009 Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), construction was originally slated to begin last year. However, inability to pass a road referendum has left the city without matching funds to secure the federal dollars vital to this huge undertaking.

If voters approve the sales tax increase, however, Hollander hopes to begin construction by 2012, with the road and bridge projects completed by 2014.

Asked if she’ll support the referendum, Quinonez responded, “If it was a guarantee that it would be complete and not put somewhere else.”

Quinonez wants assurance the bridge project will be a priority the city will commit to completing on time.

Having been dealt a defeat by voters last March on a similar referendum, Mayor Morrissey and aldermen hope to sell this referendum between now and April by showing residents exactly where the dollars would be going.

From the Feb. 7-13, 2007, issue

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