Restoration Nearly Complete on Historic Sutliff Bridge

SUTLIFF, Iowa (AP) — For the first time in more than four years, Sutliff Bridge is spanning the Cedar River on its own. Workers recently removed the bridge's temporary supports and say the project is within weeks of final completion.

"I live right there so I see it every day. It looked so beautiful the other morning to not have any supports there," said Sarah Brannaman, one of the organizers who led the charge to get the bridge rebuilt.

Engineers estimate the project will be done by the middle of next month. Sutliff Bridge's official re-opening next month will end a four-year chapter of the landmark's 115-year history.

Until the late 1800's, residents in Sutliff — an unincorporated area just a few miles outside Solon — relied on a ferry to cross the Cedar River and access the rest of the county, including the county seat in Iowa City. The bridge was built in 1898 for just $12,000.

By the time the structure was closed to vehicles 30 years ago, truss bridges like Sutliff Bridge weren't common anymore. Eventually the bridge was populated by picnic tables and along with a nearby tavern, it became a popular hub for locals and tourists. In 1999, the bridge, by then more than 100 years old, was put on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The Cedar River flooded in 2008 and forced thousands of people in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids out of their homes. Further downstream in Sutliff, the cost of the damage wasn't nearly as great, but the flood waters destroyed the historical bridge and completely removed one of the three spans.

The next year, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors took over the bridge in order to be eligible for federal disaster support. The Federal Emergency Management Agency committed up to $1.7 million to repair the structure but also gave the county the option to take only a portion of the money and put it toward a different project. The decision proved divisive, drawing more than 20 people to an October 2009 public forum on the topic, but a few months later, the board voted 3-2 to approve the project.

Crews started working at the beginning of this year, and now the project is just a few steps from completion.

"The main thing left will be the handrails and to finish up fastening the planks," said Ron O'Neil, general manager at VJ Engineering.

Not only will the bridge soon be back, but it will have a few extra features.

The bridge will boast a handful of panels with information about the bridge, its history and the nearby community. That project is supported by the Sutliff Bridge Authority, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the bridge, including covering upkeep and inspections for the bridge.

Brannaman said the Sutliff Bridge Authority, which hosts events throughout the year, plans to host some kind of grand re-opening event next month.

"They have just gone to town with getting everything done," she said. "Everybody is very excited and especially excited to just see the progress that they've made."
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