City commits up to $72K to bridge study

Newly elected Fort Madison City Councilman Bob Morawitz is sworn in Tuesday night at the first 2018 meeting of the city council. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – Fort Madison will pitch in up to $72,000 toward a comprehensive study of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge that spans the Mississippi River on the city’s east end.

Mike Norris, executive director of the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, spoke at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Fort Madison City Council, outlining the study for the council.

The project has an estimated price tag of $360,000 with the Departments of Transportation in Iowa and Illinois contributing $144,000 each with the local match from Fort Madison, Norris said the cost is based on other similar studies done by the railroad.

The scope of the study would be to perform a conceptual design, perform structural inspections above the water line, evaluate live load ratings on all elements of the existing bridge, evaluate all permits and permitting agencies that would be needed for construction, as well as comparing the study against the Fort Madison comprehensive plan; evaluate all hazardous materials impacts; look at the life of the bridge from zero maintenance to maintained state of repair; examine all alternatives from a do-nothing approach to a preferred alternative to improve the bridge to a point where it can safely handle 80,000 pound truck traffic; and provide cost estimates of all alternatives.

Mayor Brad Randolph said he hoped local industry and businesses could jump in and help the city offset some of that $72,000

“I’m not saying we should look for a specific percentage of participation because I’m not sure we would get that,” Randolph said. “I’m being biased, but I think it’s important that we proceed with this because I think there’s a need for it. I’m basically indicating that we should be on the hook for the total amount, with the thought that we don’t want to be on the hook for the total amount,” Randolph said.,

“This is a project we’ve been talking about for years and it gets quiet, but there is still activity. And your ability to garner support from not only Iowa DOT, but Illinois DOT considering this is a private bridge, speaks volumes to the importance of the project,” Randolph told Norris.

Newly sworn in Councilman Bob Morawitz asked if previous studies involving using truck tolls to pay for the project were available. He said he remembers talking with local and state officials about this sort of study15 years ago and wondered why those documents weren’t available.

Councilman Chris Greenwald said he remembered those issues as conversations and not a study. Randolph said he too was unaware of those studies, but that was before his time on the council.

The other player in the study, and any future work on the project, would be the Southeast Iowa Economic and Port Authority. Randolph said the Port Authority would have bonding authority to help raise funds for the construction phase of the project.

The push for the study would be to ultimately look at options to modify or improve the bridge road deck to get trucks from local industries, including the Iowa Fertilizer plant,

across the bridge in Fort Madison, which would save those entities money in transportation. Randolph said from past meetings with the railroad officials, BNSF is open to an agreement that would allow paid tolls on the bridge to be used to help finance improvements to the bridge.

Morawitz also pointed to an1866 agreement with the railroad that mandates the railroad provide a roadway over the river.

“If we take that over how does that effect that agreement because they have to provide that. If we take it over that means were responsible for the repairs and maintenance, right?” Morawitz said.

“That’s a piece of the pie that hasn’t been baked or cut yet” Norris said.

“We should have those answers before we put a bunch of money in it,” Morawitz said.

Randolph said those concerns are issues for later in the project.

“We’re not even there yet,” Randolph said. “That’s just an idea that has been discussed as a possibility in order to fund the improvements. If you’re saying you don’t know who’s going to maintain the deck once it’s done and we shouldn’t do the study and spend the $72,000…I’ll disagree with you because I think you’re not seeing the big picture at that point.”

Morawitz said he’s been looking at the project for 15-20 years.”

“The railroad always maintained it,” Morawitz said. “They used to have semi – they don’t now because of the s-curves – and when we talked about that back when Mayor Ireland talked with them there was no discussion about us taking over the deck itself. We would bond for the improvements and then the railroad would take the tolls from semi’s to pay off the bond so the railroad wouldn’t have an expense and the city wouldn’t have an expense.”

Randolph said having the port authority bond for the improvements would mean the same thing, neither entity would have an expense.

“It doesn’t mean we have to (take over the road deck and toll operations). It was a way to help pay for the project. If we wait for BNSF to do it it may never happen,” he said.

Councilman Chad Cangas made a motion to call the question and end the discussion, which passed, and then the motion to approve the expense passed 6-1 with Councilman Kevin Rink voting against the measure. Rink had asked Norris if any towns on the Illinois side were contributing to the study cost. Norris said he would look into it, but said Fort Madison had a lion’s share of the interest with the amount of industry on the Iowa side.

“We will have a competitive consultant process on this so we hope that process helps drive that cost down a little bit,” Norris said. I’m hoping that competitive pressure brings that ceiling down.”

In other action, the council;

– voted 6-0 to set a meeting date on the authorization of a $1.7 million Water Revenue Capital Loan agreement

  • voted 6-0 to accept Avenue E from Vica Lane to 33rd Street
  • voted 5-1 to accept improvements made in the Woodland Heights subdivision Phase 1. Morawitz voted against the measure after a lengthy discussion where he asked for a five-year performance bond on the sewer lines that were installed on the project. Currently the city has a maintenance guarantee from Greenoak Development on the sewer improvements.
  • voted 7-0 on appointments of Corey Fraise to the Planning and Zoning Commission, David Soppe to the Fort Madison Housing Authority and Brian Wright to the Fort Madison Tourism Commission, Merlin Hellman to the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission and Loren “Andy” Andrews and Dan Reppert to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.


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