By Matt Schepeler
It will likely take several years to get accomplished, but Village of Brooklyn officials took the first step in replacing the historic Mill Street Bridge Monday night.
Officials chose Fleis & Vanderbrink Engineering of Kalamazoo over two other competitors to conduct a study and get the grant process started to replace the aging structure.
The existing bridge was constructed in 1925 and has been slowly deteriorating. Village manager Jae Guetschow noted that four years ago, the structure was rated to handle a load of 20 tons, and that was reduced two years ago to 17 tons. That number is already pushing the limit for fire trucks and is likely not enough for larger tanker trucks. If the load restriction is lowered, even more, it would create a logistical issue for public safety officials.
I don’t think anybody disputes that fact that we have got to do something. The question is, ‘What do we do,’” said village president J.B. DeJeu.
It was also pointed out that Mill Street is an important artery into Brooklyn and closing the bridge would result in a major inconvenience for residents and motorists who frequently utilize the road.
Adding to the urgency is that replacing the bridge is a process that involves seeking grants, and bridge grants are allocated in three-year cycles. The deadline for applying for the upcoming three-year cycle is May 1, putting the council and Fleis & Vanderbrink under the gun in getting the necessary paperwork filed for a grant.
“We are down to the wire as far as being able to ask them to get an application in by the May 1 deadline,” note Guetschow.
Project manager Matt Johnson of Fleis & Vanderbrink explained to the council that replacing the historic bridge “Is kind of a unique project.
“You don’t see this every day,” said Johnson of the history of the bridge. “We looked at it from a big picture standpoint, and this is a really, really cool project. You have an old industrial manufacturing facility built by Henry Ford in the ‘20’s when he was redefining American manufacturing. And you have an old, historic bridge, probably built by Henry Ford to deliver goods and services via automobile.
“So we looked at this more from a redevelopment standpoint,” said Johnson. He noted that the possibility of partnering with Dan Ross, who is attempting to redevelop the former Ford Plant into an Irish-themed shopping, dining and recreational complex would add a great deal of value in the grant writing process.
“Fleis & Vanderbrink like going after funding for projects and getting them up and running. This is a really cool project, and one [Fleis & Vanderbrink] specializes in walking communities through.”
The plan that the company submitted includes seeking community input, developing a shared vision, developing a design and construction plan, and exploring all the possible funding options.
Besides merely replacing the bridge, which is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass over at the same time, officials are also considering widening the bridge to include a sidewalk.
One Mill Street resident expressed concern over the project. Sandi Paul, who lives next to the bridge, wanted to know which side of the street the sidewalk would be located and how much the project would affect her property.
DeJeu noted that it was not yet known which side of the road a sidewalk would be located on. He added that the ultimate goal would be to disturb neighbor’s property as little as possible through the project.
The price estimates for the bridge replacement ranged rather dramatically, from around $450,000 to $1.2 million. The final price will depend on what type of structure the council settles on.
Officials are planning to meet in the next several days in an attempt to get a grant application to the state before the May 1 deadline. Johnson noted that even if the grant is denied, the project would be more likely to be approved in the following cycle if it has already been denied.
DeJeu noted that even though they want to get the application in before May 1, they would not send in a project submission they were not comfortable with just to make the deadline.