SUTLIFF– A diesel crane lifted a steel column into the air and set it upright in the murky waters of the Cedar River. With a pile driver attached, and a man in full-body harness and with fall protection in place hanging on the side; the crane operator rhythmically pounded the column into the river bed.
On shore, a trio of patrons of Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern sipped their drinks as they watched and engaged in idle conversation. A few feet below them and to the left, a surveyor whistled to the man hanging on the pile driver and gestured a bit to the north. The man signaled to the crane operator, a slight adjustment was made and the pounding resumed.
The crew from Iowa Bridge and Culvert, Inc. from Washington continued the process of rebuilding and repairing the Sutliff Bridge, which was heavily damaged in the record flood of 2008. Work began in January with reconstructing the 155-foot timber approach span on the west end. A new timber approach for the east has also been completed, sitting on a new bearing built upon a repaired stone abutment. The columns being placed will provide temporary support as the new east span is built yet this summer.
The bridge was built in 1898 and retired from service in the early 1980s. The Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA) was formed as a private entity interested in preserving the bridge, one of few remaining Parker Truss bridges surviving. In June of 2008, the Cedar River reached historic levels of flooding. The east span fell into the swollen river and was destroyed along with the west approach. The remaining two spans were heavily damaged. The SBA tried to get funding to restore the bridge through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but the agency could not provide taxpayer dollars to a private group. So, the SBA lobbied the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to take back the bridge, which would make it eligible for federal and state disaster relief funding. In a controversial move that even involved a plea from a Hollywood actor/producer, the board agreed in April 2010 on a 3-2 vote with supervisors Janelle Rettig, Terrence Neuzil and Rod Sullivan voting to rebuild while Pat Harney and Sally Stutsman opposed the project.
In November 2011, the board approved an estimated $2.4 million project to repair and rebuild the bridge in a manner emulating as closely as possible its original appearance while using modern techniques and meeting contemporary building codes for accessibility and personal safety. Iowa Bridge and Culvert was awarded the contract after submitting a lower than anticipated bid of $1.6 million. With engineering costs factored in, which were paid by the county, the total for the project is close to $2 million. The SBA continues fundraising efforts to go toward offsetting some of the county’s costs for maintaining the bridge, once completed.
Completion is anticipated for this fall.