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Charley Western Trail Bridge completion planned for fall of 2020

Charley Western Trail Bridge completion planned for fall of 2020
This is what the Charley Western Recreation Trail Bridge looked like before it collapsed into the Cedar River while it was being demolished in July 2018. The bridge was closed in April 2017 when parts of it were observed to be coming apart. Press file photo by Bob Steenson



By Kelly Terpstra,

When slabs of concrete and rock splashed into the water two summers ago in Charles City, the Charley Western Trail Bridge went crashing down to the riverbed below.

The old railway-crossing-turned-recreational-trail-bridge over the Cedar River had been a historical and functional part of the community.

“The bridge made that trail by connecting it across the river. When it collapsed it was a major loss,” said City Engineer John Fallis.

The effort to fill that void — literally and figuratively — may soon be here.

“I think this new bridge is going to be a great improvement,” said Fallis.

The $1.2 million project to replace the Charley Western Trail Bridge is slated for completion in late summer or early fall of 2020. Once bids are let in January by the Iowa Department of Transportation, work can start shortly thereafter.

“It’s a popular project,” said Mayor Dean Andrews.

Andrews is an original member of a trail committee that was formed the 1990s, and he said that group has a tentative date of Dec. 1 to ramp up fundraising efforts to help pay for lighting and other enhancements of the trail from Clark Street, over the bridge and leading up to South Grand Avenue.

The plan for the trail bridge fundraising is still developing and could take place over several years, Andrews said.

“The bridge being built is not going to be dependent on the trail committee raising money,” Andrews said. “Some of the extras will be what the trail committee is raising money for, like the actual lights themselves.”

The bridge will be 349 feet long and 12 feet wide and will accentuate the extensive trail system along the riverfront with a continuous walkway that connects Charles City. There will be two piers constructed on the three-span bridge with six conduits for lighting and illumination.

“The conduit and the supports have everything for lighting. The actual lights will come later,” said Fallis. “The major cost is the structure – the abutments, the piers and the slab.”

There will also be bumpouts (pedestrian modules) with a bench near the middle of the pre-stressed concrete bridge so passers-by can relax, soak in the scenery along the river or anglers can drop a fishing line into the river.

“People can get off the trail. They’ll be able to sit and enjoy the area without impeding the trail,” said Fallis.

The bridge cannot be viewed in its entirety from either Clark Street or South Grand Avenue, the nearest streets.

“Since it’s not going to be seen, there wasn’t the need to really spend a lot of money on architectural details,” said Fallis. “Like the old architectural saying goes, ‘form follows function.’”

Andrews said LED lights on decorative poles could be used to illuminate the bridge.

“It will be focused more on what you see on top of the bridge as opposed to the substructure of the bridge,” he said.

Although not intended for motorized traffic, the bridge is being engineered to be able to support emergency vehicles if needed, for example if flooding cuts off other bridges in the city.

“We put in a bridge that would serve the bike trail as well as for emergency vehicles during times of flood,” Fallis said.

The original bridge was built by early 20th Century Charles City pioneers C.W. Hart, C.H. Parr and E.M. Sherman, provided a railway system that united Charles City to rural areas through passenger and freight travel.

“The bridge that we lost was a neat piece of architecture,” said City Administrator Steve Diers. “It’s served its useful life.”

The interurban passenger line saw trolley wire hung from poles to replace gasoline-powered engines that crossed Charley’s tracks in the summer of 1915. This made way for electric railway travel and the ability to expand the transportation system outward to the Chicago Great Western Rail line.

Just five years later, streetcars were being used less but the railway that connected to the Rock Island Railroad in Marble Rock still delivered mail along those tracks up until the 1950s.

The Charley Western line to Marble Rock lasted until 1973 and the tracks were out of service completely and abandoned in 1993.

Andrews said in the 1990s the Charles City Area Development Corp. tried to refurbish the rail service and provide a link for a commute to such local businesses as Zoetis and Cambrex, but that plan never came to fruition. He said Community Revitalization then purchased the bridge and constructed the bike trail on it.

Charles City has secured $330,000 in federal TAP (Transportation Alternative Program) funding to go toward the new bridge. The Parks and Rec Department has also allocated $100,000 through hotel/motel tax dollars. The Charles City Chamber of Commerce has also used the grant money provided by those hotel/motel tax dollars to contribute $25,000. The Floyd County Snowmobile Association has also pledged $35,000.

“It’s going to take a combination of city funds, grants and private donations to pay to put it back up,” said Jim Davis, a member of the trail committee.

Andrews, like many local residents, said he is eager to see the replacement bridge become a usable walkway.

“It’s been fun because there’s broad-based support for it in the community. So many people miss having that completion of the trail,” he said.

Andrews said Charles City has placed more of an emphasis on the river that winds through its borders in the last 15 years with such projects as the trail system and the whitewater park.

“This is just one more way of making the river an asset,” said Andrews. “A lot of people used that bridge that are just walkers – maybe that’s their mode of transportation is walking. It cuts off a lot of distance.”

Fallis said the new bridge will once again let people take in the beauty of the river as they cross over it in that part of town.

“The river is kind of a big thing. It goes right through downtown and that river is part of Charles City,” Fallis said.