A bid to completely remove the bridge’s existing, flaking coating and recoat the structure came in at $725,000, while a bid for $115,000 likely would not provide a long-term maintenance solution. | Bob Uphues/Editor

What was thought to be a pretty straightforward project to refurbish the 210-foot long H. Wallace Caldwell Memorial Bridge – known to local residents as the Swinging Bridge – has turned into something of a nightmare for the Riverside Township Board of Trustees.

It turns out that not only was the $75,000 earmarked in the 2021-22 budget far below what it’s going to take to do the job, the township board has had trouble getting companies to even submit bids. As it stands, the township board has in hand two proposals, neither of which is appealing, and it’s almost certain that any work to refurbish the bridge’s rusting, flaking finish won’t happen in 2021.

“I’m hopeful we’ll get at least one more bid so we can get the job done as soon as possible,” Riverside Township Supervisor Vera Wilt told fellow board members at their meeting on Oct. 13. “I’m not very hopeful that this season will allow it to happen.”

One of the township board’s biggest decisions right now is exactly what the scope of the refurbishment will be, since the cost to pursue the work recommended by the board’s consulting architect is prohibitive, according to Wilt.

Bob Uphues/Editor

The township’s consultant, API Architects, recommended removing all existing coatings, dirt, oil and rust from the entire structure before applying a new coating. That did not happen in 2011 when the township board spent about $25,000 to paint the suspension bridge, which was erected in 1940 and rebuilt in 2002.

As a result, a paint job that had been expected to last 25 to 30 years lasted less than a decade before the finish started failing. An inspection report submitted in July 2020 revealed that layers of older coatings still existed beneath the 2011 layer.

The report concluded that “the bridge likely did not have proper surface preparation for the [2011] coating project.”

Wanting to avoid a repeat, API Architects recommended fully preparing all surfaces before recoating the bridge.

But, the township board got no responses from two attempts to seek bids in spring and summer. Trustees then declared an emergency and began reaching out directly to firms to solicit proposals.

They ended up with two alternatives. A company called Lakes and Rivers Contracting submitted a proposal in July that met the full scope of work recommended by API Architects.

However, the price tag came in at $725,000, an amount that also took into account the need to abate lead paint that Lakes and Rivers Contracting reported observing on the bridge during a site visit.

API Architects noted in an August report to the township board that while they hadn’t confirmed the presence of lead paint, its existence was a possibility.

The other proposal received by the township board was from a company called Era Valdivia Contractors Inc. in the amount of $115,000. API noted in its report to the township board that Era Valdivia’s estimate did not conform to specifications for preparing the surface in that it would not completely remove the existing coating.

Era Valvidia’s proposal called for using liquid detergent and hand tools to remove existing dirt, grease and oil from the surface.

“This will not remove the existing coating and will result in less optimal adhesion of the new coating and was not recommended by the coating manufacturer,” wrote Ken Nadolski, principal of API Architects, in the company’s August report to township trustees.

Era Valdivia reportedly informed API Architects it would resubmit a proposal conforming to specifications, but Nadolski told the Landmark the company never updated its proposal.

Asked why it’s been so hard to attract bidders, Nadolski said suspension bridge projects are a niche area, one most contractors don’t normally have experience with, which excludes many companies right off the bat.

For those companies with experience in bridge maintenance, Nadolski said, the Swinging Bridge project is “extremely small” and not worth it to firms looking for large-scale work through agencies like the Illinois Department of Transportation.

At $725,000, said Wilt, the project was not feasible. Now the township board is trying to find a way to scale back the scope of work to make it more affordable – if they can even find a company to do the work.

“We’ll do the best job we can, but we’re still searching for the right company to do it,” Wilt told the Landmark last week.