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County celebrates Mehaffey Bridge opening

Members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, along with family members of the late Dan Elmore, cut a ribbon to signify the official opening of the new Mehaffey Bridge, a two-year, $8.9 million project to replace the previous 49-year old structure. (photo by Lori Lindner)

JOHNSON COUNTY– Mehaffey Bridge is finished.
Officials from Johnson County, representatives of VJ Engineering and Iowa Bridge and Culvert, and members of the public gathered in the rain Wednesday, Oct. 21, to conduct a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the two-year project.
In addition to the ribbon cutting, officials and family members also said a few words to recognize a worker who passed away while working on the project. In the upcoming year, a plaque will be installed on the bridge to honor the late Dan Elmore of Ottumwa, a crane operator with Iowa Bridge and Culvert, said Brian Uitermarkt.
“On December 5th of last year, we lost a valuable employee, co-worker and friend. Danny Elmore passed away on the job in his crane of a medical condition. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Secondary Roads Department have given us permission to install a plaque in his memory on the bridge. He is missed, and I know he was very proud of this project while he was working on it,” Uitermarkt told the small crowd.
The $8.9 million project replaced the previous 49-year old, structurally deficient bridge. The old bridge was constructed from 1962 to 1966, was just 28 feet wide and cost the county $100,000.
The new 562-foot span is 55 feet wide, allowing for future expansion to four lanes if necessary. The structure includes a paved, 12-foot wide walking/biking path, as well.
Points underneath the bridge’s roadway surface are nearly as significant as above; the former bridge was subject to closure in the flood events of 1993 and 2008. Today, the bottom of the bridge sits 716 feet above the Coralville Reservoir’s typical level. Instead of the previous four piers that sat in the water, the new bridge is supported by just two piers, allowing better flow of boat traffic below.
In keeping with Johnson County’s push for environmental sustainability in its construction practices, the lights on the bridge pillars are solar powered. Even more significant were the savings to both the environment and drivers by not having to detour around the bridge when traveling Mehaffey Bridge Road.
According to documents provided by Johnson County Engineer Greg Parker, an estimated 7,800 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions, 879,000 gallons of gas and 18 million detour miles were saved by keeping the bridge open to traffic during the entire construction process. Aside from lowering the speed limit across the bridge to 25 mph and narrowing to one lane of traffic from March 30 to July 10 of this year, traffic was largely unimpeded during the project’s duration. The speed limit has returned to 55 mph, though Parker said the solar-powered speed indicator signs have yet to be removed.
The bridge’s concept designers were Parker and structural engineer Steve Jacobsen, consulting engineers were from VJ Engineering, and the lead contractor was Iowa Bridge and Culvert. The project broke ground on April 1, 2013 and, while it was delayed twice by high water in the Iowa River and Coralville Reservoir, the bridge was completed earlier this month.
For Parker, though, the project took closer to 11 years, from its conceptualization to last week’s ribbon cutting ceremony.
“Steve Jacobsen and I started the concept for this bridge design on handwritten paper to what it currently is,” Parker said in an email communication. “A project of this scale has involved many people, from design, to the contractor and to final construction.
“I am very proud to be a part of the team to accomplish and complete this project. This bridge is an engineering marvel and for the many who had the opportunity to work on this project, it is considered a career signature project.”