December 09, 2021

Efforts to save historic bridge stalled by county

Red Bridge supporters await survey, funding

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Work is continuing on the effort to save the historic Red Bridge, Jasper County Museum Executive Director Joe Otto said during a presentation on Wednesday.

Otto, a Colfax native, has been leading the effort to relocate the truss bridge, the last of its kind in Jasper County, from its current location near Reasnor to Colfax at Quarry Springs Park.

“I would come back year after year and watch this bridge fall apart over time,” Otto said. “Once the road was closed, the county just kind of left this bridge to die.”

The bridge was built in 1892 in Fairview Township, about 4.5 miles northeast of Monroe on the edge of the South Skunk River Wildlife Area. According to Preservation Iowa, Red Bridge connected Newton with Monroe and Pella in the 1910s before the construction of Highway 14. Efforts over the years to save the crumbling Red Bridge, which was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1998, have not made traction until Otto came on board to lead the cause.

His idea is to make the bridge the focal point for access between downtown Colfax and Quarry Springs Park — serving as a footbridge over the Skunk River connecting the city to the park. Otto said he has received support from many organizations on the project including the Quarry Springs Park Board, the city council and mayor of Colfax and the Colfax Historical Society.

In the past year, he has petitioned the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to take action on the bridge before it crumbles and falls into the river. The first request Otto succeeded with was for the county to not intentionally demolish the bridge. The second was for the county engineer to order a survey of the bridge to determine the cost of separating it from its piers with a crane and then set it down on the north bank in the right-of-way of Red Bridge Avenue.

While the second action was approved by the supervisors, Otto said, to date, no work has been done to complete the surveying project.

“The county engineer was ordered to survey the bridge ... that was done last June, and we are still waiting on the county engineer’s office to act on this matter,” Otto said. “I’m having a very difficult time getting the county engineer’s office to comply with the supervisors’ orders. That is where we are stuck today, waiting on this.”

Jasper County Engineer Russ Stutt said a survey has not yet be ordered for the bridge. He said after speaking with a bridge inspection consultant, the consultant expressed concerns on moving it due to the possibility of it collapsing in the move.

Otto also went over the costs associated with moving the bridge, including the cost to the county and what could be fundraised for by volunteers and those who support the cause. For phase one, to move the bridge from its current location on the river, a crane would be used at an approximate cost of $25,000. That amount would be the responsibility of the county.

“It sounds like a lot, but (if the bridge were to collapse) the county would have to bring a crane in there anyway and also pay public works guys to cut it up and the dump trucks, it would be an expensive operation either way,” Otto said. “Whether it is demolished or taken apart and moved, it costs the exact same amount of money to rent a crane. Either way, whether it falls or it is saved, we are going to pay for it.”

For phase two, after speaking with a local house mover who expressed an interest in the project, Otto received an estimated cost of $45,000 to transport the bridge from Reasnor to Colfax. The largest portion of funds would be used on phase three, or the rebuilding of the bridge at $250,000 to $300,000. While the bones of the truss bridge are good, from the Department of Natural Resources and Army Core of Engineers, which regulates the bridge, would essentially require a brand new bridge.

“The different phases while they all work toward the same goal, is not incumbent on the county to fund those other two phases,” Otto said.

Quarry Spring Park and Recreation President Doug Garrett was on hand at the presentation and attested to the work Otto has been doing to save the bridge. While showing the efforts Otto went to on a cold November day to get a photograph of the full span of the bridge by wading into the river, Garrett said he thought Otto might be a little crazy but commended his commitment to the idea.

“I thought he was insane at that point. I think we both are,” Garrett joked.

To continue the efforts, Otto said the public can participate by contacting county officials and show their support for the project and implore them to move forward with the steps in phase one before the bridge ends up in the river.

“Contact a county supervisor and respectfully request that they use the demolition money that would go towards its demolition to save the bridge,” Otto said.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com