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Park District facing decision on what to do with Quinsippi Island bridge

The bridge connecting Quinsippi Island to the mainland is closed to traffic except for marina renters. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Posted: Aug. 8, 2015 7:27 pm Updated: Aug. 22, 2015 10:57 pm

By DON O'BRIEN
Staff Writer | 217-221-3370
dobrien@whig.com | @DOBrienWHIG

QUINCY -- John Frankenhoff has been on the Quincy Park Board for more than a decade and has served as the board's president since spring 2007. He's at a loss about what the board and the Quincy Park District can do about the deteriorating Quinsippi Island bridge.

Earlier this year, the Park District learned that after an underwater inspection, the bridge's condition was downgraded it from fair to poor. The Park District is faced with either repairing the bridge or shutting it down. After originally estimating a fix would cost $150,000, Park District Executive Director Rome Frericks said the price tag to replace the entire bridge could be as much as $5 million.

"We have a heck of a situation to deal with," Frankenhoff said. "I don't know where we are going to go with (the problem). It's one of the toughest situations that we have confronted since I've been on the board. There are so many unknowns."

In anticipation of making repairs to the bridge, the Park District sought bids for the repair. Bids were opened July 27 with just one bidder, County Contractors Inc. of Quincy. The group's bid for repairs was $695,000, nearly five times what the Park District had hoped to spend. Frericks said he will recommend at Wednesday's Park Board meeting that commissioners reject the bid.

"There are no other cheaper alternatives," he said. "There is no other way to fix the situation."

The original bridge was built in 1868 and was rebuilt in 1899. The 650-foot-long structure primarily served as a railroad bridge until the late 1960s, when a marina was built on the island. After being only open to marina traffic, the bridge was open to automobile traffic full time in 1977.

The one-lane bridge connects the island to Quincy. It is used by people who frequent Art Keller Marina. There are two shelters on the island, which is also home to the Log Cabin Village.

The bridge is connected by five piers, a mixture of stone and wooden ones. The second pier to the west was found to be deficient. Frericks said a lot of scouring was found underneath the pillar. Underwater inspections are done every five years on the bridge. High water levels on the Mississippi River, Frericks said, have led to the scouring. The deck also needs to be replaced, he said.

Although just one of the piers needs to be repaired now, there is no guarantee the others might not need the same work done in the future. With five piers, the cost to repair all of them at nearly $700,000 per pier would be $3.5 million. Frericks estimated that replacing the top of the bridge deck would cost $1.5 million more, driving the total repair cost to an estimated $5 million.

Before the bridge was downgraded, the Park District had mulled the idea of replacing the bridge deck. Now, the Park Board must wrestle with what to do with the entire structure

"An $80,000 band aid would have been OK, but a $700,000 band aid is a pretty expensive band aid," Frankenhoff said. "We just don't know what is going to happen (with the other piers). You can't control the river. I don't think putting a new deck on it makes any sense until we have the piers fixed."

Frankenhoff said there are several options in front of the board. One option would be to close the bridge and shut down the island. That would mean shuttering the marina. Two years ago, when there was a waiting list for people to house their boats at the marina, that wouldn't have been an option.

"I have a hard time spending $700,000 on a bridge when 37 percent of the marina slips are open," Frericks said.

There are 241 slips in the marina. Frericks said 51 covered slips and 39 uncovered slips remain open.

Frankenhoff said another option would be to close the bridge to automobile traffic but keep it open for pedestrians and use golf carts to take people to the island. The Park District could operate a ferry from nearby Kessler Park to transport people who use the marina, Frankenhoff said.

Another option would be moving the docks to the riverfront. Frankenhoff said dredging costs would make that an expensive option.

"I would be hesitant to move the docks to the mainland," he said.

A discussion on the bridge is expected to be a main topic at Wednesday's Park Board meeting.

"I don't feel comfortable throwing that type of money toward the bridge when we have other projects that need to be done in the 1,012 acres of parks that the district has," Frericks said.