Scores of joyful residents released helium filled balloons in Quasqueton Friday to celebrate the opening of a new bridge across the Wapsipinicon River.
“This will be good for business, and it will save a lot of gas,” said Mayor Chad Staton, who christened the bridge deck with champagne as residents released 103 balloons — one for each day the bridge had been closed.
Theoretically, the closure entailed the driving of an additional 2.54 million miles (2,460 crossings per day x 103 days x a typical detour of 10 miles).
During the closure motorists who would normally cross the river at Quasqueton did so either at Troy Mills, Independence or on a gravel road northwest of town.
For Staton, who lives on the west side of the river across from the main part of town, tending to city business required him either to cross the river in his pontoon boat, walk across on a precarious footbridge or drive 10 miles of gravel roads.
Commuters to jobs in Cedar Rapids, crossing the river at Troy Mills, drove an extra nine miles one-way to get to work.
In addition to local traffic, many vehicles cross the bridge as part of a shortcut between Interstate 380 and the four-lane Highway 20. With those drivers going elsewhere, the town’s two taverns and a convenience store suffered the greatest business losses during the closure.
Because the bridge is considered a key transportation link, Buchanan County, for the first time, incorporated rapid completion incentives in the contract, said County Engineer Brian Keierleber.
The contract set a 120-day deadline , with a $10,000 per day bonus for early completion or a $10,000 per day penalty for late completion, both contained by a $75,000 cap.
“Ideal weather and working conditions enabled us to finish in 103 days,” said Jim Brink, project foreman for Minnowa Construction of Harmony, Minn.
“We worked a lot of 12- and 13-hour days and lost only a day and a half to bad weather,” Brink said.
Record spring rains and consequent high river levels delayed the start of the $1.7 million project until July 15, just when the onset of a flash drought created ideal bridge-building conditions.
“I am shocked at how fast they got it done,” said Gretchen Bockenhauer, an employee of IIW, PC, the Dubuque engineering firm overseeing the project.
Federal funds will pay 80 percent of the project’s cost with the city and county splitting the remaining 20 percent, Keierleber said. An engineering study determined that it would be more economical to replace the 1959 bridge than to rehabilitate it, he said.
A post-construction mussel survey was conducted earlier this month to determine whether the construction project had damaged native mussel populations.
Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Dan Kirby said he had not seen the survey report and could not yet say whether any mitigation for mussel population damage would be required.
Because of chronic high water this spring, the DNR granted a waiver allowing the required pre-construction mussel survey to be delayed.