Grand Haven Tribune: $850K in fixes coming to drawbridge this winter

$850K in fixes coming to drawbridge this winter

Alex Doty • Jun 8, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Michigan Department of Transportation officials say they have work lined up to improve the U.S. 31 drawbridge over the Grand River later this year.

The work will include the replacement of the bridge’s motor drive system, alignment of the gear couplings, cleaning and painting the span lock and tail lock machinery, and upgrading miscellaneous electrical components.

MDOT Grand Region spokesman John Richard said the upcoming winter work for electrical and mechanical upgrades is currently budgeted at around $850,000.

“The new motor drive system makes up the lion’s share of that cost — estimated at approximately $500,000,” he said.

Previous work on the bridge includes a detailed inspection of its electrical, mechanical and structural components in 2015; an epoxy overlay, partial steel grid deck replacement and joint replacement in 2007; detailed inspection of electrical and mechanical systems in 2003; and concrete overlay, joint replacement and new railings in 1999.

The bridge was constructed in 1958 and opened to traffic the next year. 

Two weeks ago, it created a severe traffic backup when MDOT officials say heat likely caused parts of the bridge to expand. This caused the bridge to close improperly.

“That was kind of the perfect storm on Friday (May 25),” Richard said, referencing the increased temperatures and added holiday weekend traffic on U.S. 31.

Richard noted that the bridge had recently been inspected and tested in the spring without incident. 

“We perform annual general inspections, annual cleanings and annual test openings in March,” he said.

Given the reliance on the bridge for many in Northwest Ottawa County, and commuters just passing through town, many have wondered what it would take to construct a taller, modern bridge to replace the current structure, which sits about 23 feet above the Grand River. Funding issues aside, Richard noted that the space a taller bridge would take up both on the north and the south side of the river would have an effect on the community.

The approaches to a taller bridge would likely begin before Jackson Street and before the Ferrysburg/Spring Lake exits to the north.

“The impact to the community and the environment would be huge,” Richard said.

And even a bridge that was 45 feet above the water would still be required to open and close, per U.S. Coast Guard requirements.

“There are still vessels that need clearance,” Richard said.

To build a bridge that wouldn’t need to open and close, Richard explained that the clearance would need to be 60 feet. By comparison, the M-231 bridge over the Grand River is about 37-38 feet above the water surface, he said.

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