Csokasy: Bridge has ‘disappeared’

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, October 28, 2010

CASSOPOLIS — Road Commission Manager Louis R. Csokasy appeared before the Cass County Board of Commissioners Oct. 21, but not to talk about his position being shared with neighboring St. Joseph County in the first such arrangement in Michigan.

“I’ve talked enough about that,” he said.

“Actually, I’m here for an update, and I don’t like to do what I’m doing because I’m bringing an issue forward for which I don’t have a solution. That’s not my style, but it’s important to Cass County and merited coming before this body. As all of you should know, we have a bridge down on North Shore Drive.”

Cass County Road Commission Oct. 7 announced the closing of the span in Jefferson Township based on safety concerns driven by structural deterioration of the bridge described as 40 feet wide and 55 feet long.

It’s on a gravel road and traveled by 40 to 50 vehicles daily.

The road commission has been monitoring sub-structural deterioration of the bridge since 1998.

“It’s basically disappeared,” he said.

“It was there last year, but it’s not there anymore.”

During a formal inspection of the bridge, which is done on a regular basis, a drastic failure was found related to the retaining wall under the bridge which could lead to a complete bridge failure.

The bridge was constructed in 1930, with a new deck installed in 1978.

Several applications have been made to MDOT for bridge funding to reconstruct the bridge over the last 10 years, but with significant decrease in monies it has not been possible to get approval to reconstruct this bridge.

The road commission’s main concern is safety for the traveling public, and because of the possibility of the bridge collapsing, had no choice but to discontinue its usage.

There currently is no timetable on this bridge re-opening.

“We just got back from the state meeting we have on an annual basis,” Csokasy said. “The state ranks bridges in Michigan. We were not successful in bringing or substituting North Shore for one we previously submitted. The net effect of that is that bridge will be down now until next year when we do rankings again — and if it’s selected in the nine-county area would not be funded for repair for another three years. Right now I’m here to tell you that the North Shore bridge could be down, to the best of my knowledge, for the next four years.

“If people ask me what I really worry about every night, it’s bridges and culvert structures,” Csokasy said. “When they go down — and I’ve been with the road commission now for two years — we’ve had two major bridges go down and one major culvert go down. Culverts are $70,000 to $100,000 apiece and bridges cost $500,000 to $1 million apiece. It’s a big issue, not only in Cass County, but every county. We’re going to immediately start looking at what we can do to perhaps patch that bridge together, but it was built in 1930. I’ve personally walked it, though I would not drive a car over it. We have a problem, but we don’t have a solution. We know we’re at least four years out from a solution. We’ll be working real hard for some type of interim solution, but we don’t have that yet. If you’ll remember, when the Redfield bridge went down, we spent about $70,000 for a temporary fix. I have a problem spending another $70,000 on a 1930 structure in the hope that next year it’s selected for rehabilitation.”

Csokasy estimated there are 40 culverts in the county of a size that the state would require their replacement with bridges.

“Keep in mind,” Csokasy warned, “that sooner or later we’re going to have to address the issue of bridges and major culverts in Cass County. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s not the state.”

Commissioner Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, informed Csokasy he wants to nominate the Cass-St. Joseph County shared position next year for the Graham Woodhouse intergovernmental cooperation award of the tri-county Southwestern Michigan Commission.

Named for Dowagiac’s late mayor, it was won most recently by MEANDRS.