NEAR MOUNT VERNON, Iowa — For the thousands of drivers who zip down Highway 1 between Martelle and Mount Vernon each day, there is a bridge that probably takes a half-second to go past. If you blink, you’ll miss it.
One driver, caught in the severe storms and flash flooding of June 30, will never forget it.
“This (bridge) fell in as a car was going across and it slid into there,” said Steve Armstrong of Manatt’s, a construction firm out of Poweshiek County. Armstrong was going through his iPad photos from the initial damage on Highway 1, showing the most dramatic images.
The damage led to a closure that has forced thousands of drivers to find a different route. Some drivers are diverted all the way to Highway 13, about ten miles west, and then back to U.S. 30 and meeting Highway 1 in Mount Vernon. Others driving south on Highway 1 from Martelle, pull up to the detour and turn left on North Washington Street, which flows into nearby Lisbon and, eventually, Highway 30.
The impact of a closed Highway 1 is noticeable for drivers. A 2013 DOT survey of Linn County roads reveals that about 3,840 daily vehicles pass by the damaged bridge area each day. That number increases to 5,200 daily cars and trucks on Highway 1 south of Mount Vernon.
“They brought in a couple of excavators and dug it all out and then they packed all the rock and material and brought it back to grade,” said Armstrong of the initial work on Highway 1.
Cathy Cutler, transportation planner based in the Iowa DOT’s Cedar Rapids office, said this extra work on the bridge came after further inspection.
“The bridge inspection team did some further investigations at Iowa (Highway) 1 once water levels receded and discovered more severe undermining on both sides of the bridge — called scour — around the bridge footings,” Cutler wrote in an email on Friday.
Armstrong said the timetable for full repair is about three weeks and drivers would encounter a paved road at North Washington but the road still needs to be fortified well below what the drivers see.
“They’re going to pump all the water out of here, put cement underneath this bridge that got scoured out from the heavy rain and the water and be able to reopen it after that,” said Armstrong as he pointed at the bridge’s foundation.
This also comes at a time when Mount Vernon is trying to attract as many people as possible this weekend as the 2014 Heritage Days runs through Saturday night.
“Weather is always an issue with every festival and we go through this every year,” said Joe Jennison, who helps with the event. Talking amid light drizzle on Friday, he was quick to point out that Mount Vernon is still easy to reach, if not from the north on Highway 1.
“From Cedar Rapids, they can go on Old Mount Vernon Road and, from Iowa City, come up (Highway) 1. We’re open and come have a party with us.”
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