'Worst bridge in Macon County': County Board aims for $29M Reas Bridge project
DECATUR — Macon County Board members have attempted for years to fix what the board’s chairman says is the worst bridge in the county.
This year, they might finally make it happen.
Members on Tuesday approved a resolution which allows for the board to reappropriate funding and execute an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation to complete a long-awaited, $29 million Reas Bridge Road update project.
The resolution was initially meant to be voted on during the board's March 9 regular meeting but was not placed on the agenda in advance. Board Chairman Kevin Greenfield, R-4, then called for a special meeting so the body could approve fund reappropriation ahead of bid letting at the end of April.
“When we first started this project, I think back in 2017, the engineer’s estimate was about 17 or $18 million,” Greenfield said. “And we scrounged and we saved and we begged local politicians and federal politicians and state politicians for money, and we came up with it. But every time we came up with it, then the bar seemed to raise a little higher.”
The Reas Bridge Road project would include replacing the pair of 2-lane bridges over Lake Decatur with a new 4-lane structure and revamping the approaching roadways to match the new bridge. This section of roadway is part of the planned Macon County Beltway Project, a 22-mile loop around the eastern and southern edges of Decatur.
The bridge was one of 60 Macon County bridges deemed "poor" in 2021 on the National Bridge Inventory, a Federal Highway Administration database that tracks the structural integrity of 620,000 bridges in the United States.
The national bridge inventory is updated every year and rates bridges as “good,” “fair,” or “poor” on the 1-to-8 scale. Bridges scored as a seven or higher are considered “good,” while structures rated a five or six are “fair,” and any rated at four or below are classified as “poor.”
Those numbers are based county engineers or Illinois Department of Transportation inspectors, who look at every component of a bridge – the deck, substructure and superstructure — and apply a number grade for each part. The deck is the surface that vehicles drive over, while the superstructure is what holds the deck and the substructure is the base on each end of the bridge.
The county board thought it had budgeted more than enough money for the renovations a couple years ago when the county’s engineer estimated the project at about $18 million, Greenfield said. But bids came back at over $26 million.
This year, the engineer estimates project costs at approximately $29 million. The board is budgeting accordingly.
According to a division of costs plan included in the board’s agenda packet, the project will be covered by approximately $17.6 million in federal funds, $4.2 million in state funds and $7.1 million in local funds.
The local contribution consists mostly of $6.7 million in reappropriated county ARPA funds, which is the COVID relief money granted to the county through the American Rescue Plan Act. An additional $400,000 will be reappropriated from the county bridge fund.
“I don't need to tell any of you how important this bridge is to Macon County. It is the worst bridge in Macon County,” Greenfield said. “Hopefully the bids will come under the engineer’s estimate this time.”
Members briefly interrogated some aspects of the resolution but were unanimous in their support of Reas Bridge improvements.
“I realize how important that bridge is to this county,” board member Edward Yoder, R-4, said to Greenfield. “I cross that bridge often. It is in our district.”
But Yoder said he was troubled by the wording of the resolution’s appropriation points, mainly the inclusion of the phrase: “... Or as much as may be needed to match the required funding.”
Such phrasing is required by IDOT, Greenfield said, as the department will often account for disparities in appropriated funds. Additionally, board members have the right to reject any bids.
Vice Chairman Linda Little, R-5, asked if the resolution would come back to the board before the project is a done deal. The only way the resolution would appear before the board again is if bids are higher than the estimated $29 million, Greenfield said.
If bids do come in above that figure, the Reas Bridge reconstruction could be in trouble.
“If it goes over we will have another say and, quite frankly, we're going to have to beg, borrow and steal depending on what it is and what funds we take it out of,” Greenfield said. “We really don't have many funds left. Where we'll be in the April letting if the bids are way over, we're going to be back to begging and pleading with politicians.”
The Macon County Board will meet again in full one more time before the April letting process. The board’s next regular meeting is April 13.
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Contact Taylor Vidmar at (217) 421-6949. Follow her on Twitter: @taylorvidmar11.