Jefferson Street next in line as downtown repairs continue

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

Another of downtown’s key arteries is on deck for repairs, a common sight for Rockford residents this summer.

The Jefferson Street bridge, spanning the Rock River from 1st to Wyman Streets, will close to traffic next Wednesday and is expected to remain shut down until mid-November.

Jefferson_Street_bridge_repair2“We’ve looked at the bridge very closely and determined we can perform some repairs that will give it another 15-to-20 years of life,” said City Engineer Matt Vitner Tuesday.

“That bridge would’ve cost tens-of-millions to replace, and the state’s not in a good position to replace it given the condition of bridges across Illinois and the current financial climate.”

Vitner says the city worked in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to form a workable plan for the structure and limit the impact on the community.

“A city bridge carrying a state highway is a unique situation. Having a good working relationship with IDOT lets us move forward with these hybrid projects and lets us share responsibility for the roadway at both a state and city level.”

A 2013 federal review of the bridge resulted in a sufficiency score of 44.1, up from a 31.5 rating in 2011 following improvements to the road deck. Bridges that score under 50 on the scale are eligible for additional federal repair and replacement funds.

Vitner says that an estimated $50 million project to replace the entire structure was evaluated before settling on the $1.4 million repair plan.

“A little bit of money to repair all the bridges  around Rockford will give us a good return on investment, and give all these bridges a longer lifespan.”

And he says replacing an iconic part of the downtown landscape was something they worked hard to avoid.

“A lot of people like the bridge as it is, so they’re happy we’re repairing it instead of replacing it. It’s part of the identity of Rockford.”

The 1925 bridge, heavily updated in 1966, last underwent full-scale renovations in 1994, capped by the addition of a suspended walkway below the road deck. Vitner says working in conjunction with other bodies to maintain the pedestrian path is another task in repairing the overall structure.

Read: Rebuilding Rockford

“The next step would be to try to get with the Park District to find tactical solutions to the pedestrian bridge underneath,” he said.

“To let that go would undermine the multi-use structures we’ve got at both ends of downtown now–the north end loop and the south end loop.”

He says that while ultimately replacing the bridge is still  a long term goal, putting such a plan into motion may not come until the next decade.

In addition to the bridge work, Lower Jefferson Street is set to begin closing today. The section of road from East State Street to the bridge is another part of the ongoing roadway repairs downtown.

Both projects fall under the city’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP), a multi-year plan that includes repair work to major arterial roads across the city as well as surface streets and intersections.

“These core repairs to downtown roads are just a part of the CIP,” said Vitner. “Work on Alpine, work on Auburn and South Main, they’re all just as important to the overall plan as the downtown area.”

The city has pushed on with the CIP in recent months despite the budget showdown in Springfield thanks to carrying over nearly $18 million from last year’s budget, decreasing its reliance on current state funds.

An estimated 9,500 vehicles cross the bridge from the east side of downtown every day. City officials hope the majority of traffic can be rerouted via detour signs to the Whitman Street bridge via 9th Street, avoiding delays on the now two-lane State Street bridge just two blocks south.

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