Ribbon cut on $4.85 million project plagued by delays. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Of course, it had to rain.

For a project so star-crossed as the construction of the new Brookfield Avenue bridge over Salt Creek, it was only fitting that a ribbon-cutting ceremony held to celebrate its completion on Dec. 9 was performed amid a mist of rain in the gloaming of a late winter afternoon.

For local officials and the engineers responsible for seeing the project through to completion, however, the moment could not have been brighter.

“Lesson number one is don’t ever build a bridge over a creek,” said Village Manager Timothy Wiberg to a laugh from a crowd composed of children from the recreation department’s STARS after-school program and a remarkably large number of residents.

After Village President Michael Garvey, assisted by 6-year-old Lucille Matthews, a first grader in the STARS program, cut the blue ribbon at the east end of the bridge, the assembled crowd walked across the span to its west end, the first time the public had been able to use it since May of 2021.

Garvey referenced the many problems that delayed construction for weeks and sometimes months at a time, the most significant of which was rerouting a Brookfield Avenue water main by digging a trench through the Salt Creek riverbed.

“Everything that could go wrong kind of went wrong,” Garvey said. “We had a little problem getting a water line under the creek and couldn’t get it through. I think it’s kind of appropriate that the solution was to build a dam, because the word ‘damn’ is what I said quite often when Tim [Wiberg] gave me updates on the bridge.”

Adults and kids walk across the Brookfield Avenue bridge over Salt Creek on the afternoon of Dec. 9 after officials cut the ribbon signaling the completion of the project, which broke ground in May 2021 and experienced many delays. | Bob Uphues/Editor

Constructing this bridge was always going to be more complicated than the last time it was improved. Back in 1986, the village replaced the crumbling bridge deck, which had been built in 1916.

That project took just five months to complete, in part because the 1916 superstructure remained in place. For the new bridge, that old concrete superstructure was to be removed and replaced, eliminating the central pier which impeded the flow of Salt Creek. 

The new 109-foot-long bridge is also wider, allowing the village to erect a 5-foot-tall wall separating the pedestrian walkway on the north side of the bridge from the traffic lanes. Another new feature is a semicircular overlook on the bridge’s north side, allowing people to stop and admire the river view. 

There are also a pair of decorative lights at either end of the bridge’s north side – one of which remained uninstalled on Dec. 9, because the Illinois Department of Transportation wouldn’t allow its contractor to install it, Wiberg said.

“The absolute worst,” Wiberg said when asked to assess this bridge project with the many municipal infrastructure projects he’s overseen in his two decades as a village manager. 

“I’m telling you, I’ve never seen a project this screwed up,” he said. “Some of the problems were our fault, our engineers’ fault, some were completely beyond our control.”

Wiberg pointed to the uninstalled decorative light pole as an example of the problems beyond the village’s control. Utility-related delays – water, electric and telecommunications — were among the most irksome for local officials.

“[IDOT] wouldn’t let that light be part of their contract because it’s too close to another streetlamp and it doesn’t meet their standards,” Wiberg said. “They would not allow their contractor to do it, so we have to do it next week.”

Jesse Singer, the project engineer from Ciorba Group Inc., hired by the village to lead the bridge-building effort, agreed the project was beset with problems.

“This is probably the most challenging project I’ve ever worked on,” said Singer, who has been an engineer on these kinds of projects for 15 years. “I did not anticipate not being able to get the water main under the river, and the solutions were not great solutions, either.”

Bob Uphues/Editor

Officials believed they could bore a hole under the river to accommodate the water main, but they hit an unknown solid object and had to opt for digging a trench, a $470,000 solution that required getting permission from IDOT, which took three months.

The water main rerouting was completed in March, but officials worried the project still might not be completed in 2022 when quarry workers went on strike this summer, halting concrete supplies. The strike delayed the project another two months.

When work resumed, however, a stretch of good weather and no more delays allowed the bridge to be competed just as winter set in.

While there still may be some reductions in cost to the village due to the delays it experienced, the project was also substantially over the $3.47 million contract initially approved by the village board in April 2021.

Brookfield Finance Director Doug Cooper said the final cost of the bridge was $4.85 million, of which 80 percent is being funded by a federal grant. The village’s share of the cost comes out to $970,135.

Now that the work is done and the bridge is again open to pedestrians and traffic, however, memories of the aggravation will fade and the village will have an important piece of municipal infrastructure in place for generations.

“I think it’s the nicest bridge around and I can’t wait for you guys to be able to cross it today,” Garvey said prior to cutting the ribbon. “I can’t wait for us to have the Fourth of July parade come all the way through and end up at the park.”