Bridge free for the taking

The Sabula-Savanna bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it cannot be demolished before it is offered to the public.

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Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013 12:00 am

SABULA, Iowa -- Anyone want a free bridge... a really, really big bridge?

The Illinois Department of Transportation will give away a Mississippi River bridge, and pay for it to be moved, when it builds a new one between Sabula, Iowa, and Savanna, Ill. The 1932 structure is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it cannot be demolished before it is offered to the public.

"Federal regulations require us to make it available to any qualifying governmental or nonprofit agency," said Mark Nardini, acting Environmental Studies manager with the Illinois DOT District 2. "We would also pay moving costs up to the cost of demolishing it."

There are a couple of challenges for anyone interested in owning a nearly half-mile long bridge:

* It must be kept "in its historical significance in perpetuity," meaning it must remain as is forever, wherever it ends up.

* The Illinois DOT must approve its new location and how it will be moved.

* The entire bridge would have to be moved within a 30-day window after the new bridge is opened to traffic.

"We don't expect a lot of takers," Nardini said, chuckling. "In the past 22 years that I've worked here, we've never offered anything this size."

The short window for removing the bridge is because the U.S. Coast Guard is requiring the removal of the giant concrete piers holding it up soon after the bridge is no longer functional, he said.

The Illinois DOT released plans last year for a new bridge to replace the iconic 81-year-old one. The new structure will be about 100 feet south of the existing bridge to lessen the impact of construction on sensitive federal natural areas on the Iowa side and to allow for access improvements on the Illinois side. Illinois 84 north of Savanna will be widened and a turning lane onto the bridge will be built. The $70 million project will double the traveled portion to 40 feet. Construction might take place in 2015 and 2016.

Parties interested in moving the bridge and maintaining permanent ownership of it can email a letter of intent to Nardini at mark.nardini@illinois.gov or call him for more information at 815-284-2271.

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