The Grand County Council voted this week to pay for a feasibility analysis of the cost to reconstruct the Dewey Bridge, which was destroyed by fire last year. According to information provided to the council, the study, which has already been completed, has found that restoring the bridge could be done at a reasonable cost.
A former member of the Dewey Bridge Feasibility Committee had authorized the study without consultation with the rest of the committee, creating an awkward situation for county council members on Tuesday, who were asked to authorize payment of the fees after the fact. Despite this violation of protocol, the council voted 6-0 to authorize payment of $2,500 to DGP Consulting Engineers.
Council members determined that the money will come from funds raised by the bridge feasibility committee on the grounds that the council authorized the committee, immediately after the old bridge burned last spring, to raise money for its reconstruction should that prove feasible. Discussion among council members confirmed that the council also agreed last spring to support the committee’s efforts if restoration proved to be feasible.
But one qualm was expressed. Council member Audrey Graham recalled that, “after the bridge burned I got lots of calls from taxpayers saying, ‘I hope you’re not putting taxpayer money into this.’” The ensuing discussion among council members established that all restoration funds would come from donations. The only cost to the county would be for the administration of the funds and for the Grand County Engineer to help with requests for proposals.
Dewey Bridge Feasibility Committee member Russ von Koch reported that, according to the study, the cost for reconstruction would be about $850,000. But von Koch suggested that such things as testing the steel cables to verify engineers’ opinions that the fire did not weaken them might add a little more cost to that. He also told the council that the cost might rise depending on how long it takes to raise the funds.
The consulting engineer reported, and county engineer Mark Wright concurred, that the fire did probably not damage the tungsten steel cables and the towers that support them. That is providential, von Koch later explained, because when the bridge was designed in 1915 it was to be 12 feet wide. After the towers and cables were installed at that width, the bridge deck was reduced to an eight-foot width to save money. That resulted in the fire burning from the deck up between the cables instead of directly onto them, von Koch said.
Regarding the breach in funding authorization protocol, bridge committee member Vicki Barker explained that after it happened the committee was reconstituted with her has temporary chair.
“The good news is that D.L. Taylor has agreed to be the chair on the condition that I be vice-chair and do all the work,” Barker said. She expressed confidence that the committee can raise the money.
Following the meeting von Koch explained why the bridge is so important to many people. In 1915, the Dewey Bridge linked the community of southeast Utah to the largest city and distribution center in the region, Grand Junction. The community raised $25,000 to restore that linkage after a private ferry was destroyed by ice, he said.
“Grand County does not have a lot of structural landmarks,” he said. “It is the first place that people stop when coming to our region from the east. Who are we as a people if we let such an important landmark slip away?”
The bridge can be reconstructed to its former glory because the original plans for it are in hand, officials said. The cost will be only a fraction of building a new bridge because the only thing to be purchased are wood, paint, and stringers to attach the deck to the existing cables, according to information provided to the council. With the cables in place, heavy equipment will not be needed. Instead, the new wooden deck can be rebuilt one section at a time starting from shore. The first section will be used as a platform to construct the second section, and so on across the river, von Koch explained.