Utica’s new bridge is officially behind schedule, and we have Old Man River to thank for it.
The Illinois Department of Transportation confirmed Wednesday that sustained flooding — the Illinois River stood about 1½ feet above flood stage at press time Wednesday — has impeded construction by two weeks.
Kyle Videgar, construction engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said the start date to erect structural steel has been pushed back to the last week of June.
“At this point, it’s unlikely the superstructure will be completed this year,” Videgar said, adding that additional delays are not off the table. “River elevation still is an issue. It’s Mother Nature-dependant.”
IDOT entered the construction season hoping that motorists would see the major bridge elements completed some time this fall; but that was predicated on limited flooding so workers could complete the substructure elements.
Instead, continual spring rains have led to almost continual flooding. Starved Rock Lock and Dam said they hadn’t tallied the number of consecutive days at or above flood stage but Videgar said he’s never seen anything like it in his 17 years with IDOT.
“I’ve been involved in multiple river bridge projects,” he said, “and I’d say this is the worst as far as I can remember.”
Two weeks might not seem like a great disruption, but Videgar said the delay likely will cut into the agency’s construction timetable.
“The overall project may now be delayed,” he said.
That’s not good news for Utica, which chipped in nearly $800,000 to attach a sewer line to the bridge and to install a “shared use path” for pedestrians and cyclists to cross from the village into Starved Rock State Park to the south.
Utica’s mayor, however, said he wasn’t surprised by the delay and is in no way alarmed.
“The river’s never really had a chance to go down,” David Stewart said. “I kind of expected the bridge project to be behind schedule, but it looks as if they’re moving.”
Stewart praised IDOT for keeping the traffic moving and, “I haven’t noticed any major problems with the project at all.”
Statistically, he’s correct. If the tourist data are down, it’s because of weather and not construction.
Attendance at the state parks is a little off this year, but a month-by-month comparison clearly shows that visits slowed in a frigid January and a rain-soaked May. Though Starved Rock is off to its slowest year since 2013, the year of the Illinois River’s record flood, visits were at or above average during the milder spring months before the rains came.
Similarly, village coffers are feeling no pinch. The Illinois Department of Revenue released retail sales data through March 31 and Utica businesses had, collectively, posted above-average receipts in the first quarter.