Rehabbing the bridge

April 11, 2019

La PORTE — A national engineering firm is recommending La Porte County leaders begin to explore options to rehabilitate Michigan City’s 87-year-old Franklin Street Bridge.

Representatives of H.W. Lochner presented the findings of a study the company recently conducted on the structure to members of the La Porte County Council and Board of Commissioners during a joint workshop Monday at the county complex in La Porte.

The study suggests the county consider making extensive overhauls to the recently reopened bridge – which the county closed for several weeks this past winter to repair damage caused by January’s extreme cold – rather than replacing it or ignoring the lingering issues the aging structure faces.

“It’s essentially a ‘slam dunk’ that the bridge should be rehabilitated,” said Daniel Herring, senior project manager with Lochner. “It suits the vehicular needs [and] it suits the load-carrying needs. The deterioration is essentially the only reason we need to do the work.”

Among the tasks the project would focus on is modernizing the mechanical systems that allow the bridge to swing open for boats passing underneath. The work would make the bridge operate more reliably and should add another 50 years of service life, the study said.

Local officials have conducted several rehabilitation projects to the bascule bridge over the years, including replacing its original timber deck with open steel roadway grating in 1950, but the structure still possesses many original components.

Not only would rehabilitation preserve the historic character of the 1932 bridge, which carries Franklin Street over Trail Creek, but it would allow La Porte County to secure federal grant dollars for the project, Herring said. The county could take advantage of the Indiana Department of Transportation’s Historic Bridges Program, which provides an extensive process for communities to follow to get funding for such initiatives.

While federal grants could cover up to 80 percent of the cost, with local dollars providing a 20 percent match, county leaders should only expect to receive around 50 percent for the bridge project, Herring said. Officials could seek additional outside funding from the state.

If they choose to proceed with the rehabilitation, the county would have to commission additional studies on the structure before the design and construction phases begin. Herring said the project would take at least three to four years to develop, with County Councilman Mark Yagelski adding that, in his experience with similar projects, the process will likely take five to six years to finish.

“This isn’t tomorrow’s project,” Yagelski said. “This is the plan for the future.”

Following the workshop, the County Council conducted a regular meeting, during which members:

• Approved an additional appropriation of $37,500 to Indiana Guardianship Services to provide a local match for a state grant.

• Authorized the hiring of replacement positions in the assessor’s office, maintenance department and treasurer’s office.

• Approved an ordinance to establish a non-reverting county coroner fund and a fee for coroner services provided to users from outside the county. The ordinance will move to the Board of Commissioners for approval.

• Granted permission to the surveyor’s office to purchase $97,000 worth of equipment, supplies and service contracts.

• Granted permission to the assessor to purchase $4,305.98 worth of computer equipment.

• Granted permission to the 911 department to replace the air conditioner at the 911 center for $90,000.

• Granted permission to the health department to spend $120,500 to remodel its water lab.

• Approved an additional appropriation of $124,000 to the plan commission for training and funding for its 2019 budget. The council tabled an $80,000 request to purchase two replacement vehicles.

• Approved an additional appropriation of $125,000 to the commissioners to pay Fair Management and Event Corporation for infrastructure improvements to the fairgrounds.

• Tabled an additional appropriation of $3,821.57 to the emergency management office to purchase a new emergency radio for Niemann School in Michigan City until the next meeting on April 22.

• Approved an additional appropriation of $423,514 to EMS to replace two ambulances and equipment, with the county holding one old vehicle back from trade-in.

• Tabled an additional appropriation of $50,685 to the coroner to replace a vehicle and equipment.

• Approved an additional appropriation of $387,010 to the sheriff’s office for jail food and medical services, and software and licensing for computer forensics. The council also gave the sheriff’s office permission to spend $1,925 for a correctional restraint chair for the jail and $600 for K-9 supplies.

• Granted permission to the auditor to purchase a new desk and carpet for that office for $11,000.