BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Area economic officials are looking into the possibility of a feasibility study to determine if changes could be made to the BNSF bridge in Fort Madison to allow for heavier truck traffic.
City Manager David Varley said Thursday informal discussions have been taking place for about two years, but he was invited to be on a conference call with other business, economic development, and state officials about 10 days ago to discuss the study.
“The main purpose has been to look at the bridge and see what changes would be necessary to handle full lane and full load trucks,” Varley said.
He said the Iowa Fertilizer Company is one of the companies that could benefit as they have some resources they use across the river and it would be a time and money saver if they could cross in Fort Madison. He said industries such as Scotts and DuPont could also stand to benefit from changes to the bridge that would allow the bigger load trucks. He also said it would be attractive for the area if that piece of the transportation segment were improved.
He cautioned that the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which owns the bridge, would probably have a problem with anything that would interfere with moving the trains across the bridge.
Varley said Mike Norris of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission has been spearheading the effort. Norris couldn’t be reached late Thursday afternoon.
“It was the first meeting that I was involved in and Mike was able to get enough people interested to set up the call. But there have been no talks about building something separate or abandoning the current bridge. It’s just been a push that some businesses would be able to move larger trucks without going to Keokuk or Burlington.”
He said preliminary estimates of the study are in the range of $360,000 and talks have been focusing on trying to raise about $74,000 locally with the remainder possibly being paid for by the Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation. He also said there may be some grant funds available for the cost of the study.
“It’s been going back and forth between the Iowa and Illinois DOTs to get them both on board and then trying to get funding. But I think this is the first time he’s got everybody together on a conference call.”
Varley said the study would include a structural inspection of the bridge. He said it was inspected about two years ago and was found to be structurally sound, but the group would look at a wide array of standards to make sure it would meet standards for rail and highway weights.
“One of the other aspects would be how would it all fit into Federal Highway Administration policies as far as weight and structural integrity. There are different ratings for different types of bridges. This would take a look to see what kind of hoops there would be to jump through for permits and construction…timelines, hazardous materials, that sort of thing.”
Varley then said part of the study would also include the option of not doing anything.
“That’s a life-cycle cost analysis. In other words, if you keep using it, how much longer would it last at the current standard. How much longer could it go on. They come up with a few alternatives including that and they look at a preferred alternative,” Varley said.
He said to be able to utilize the bridge for heavier traffic the deck would have to be widened and the ends would probably have to be straightened out.