“Charting the future while preserving the past”

Franklin Street Bridge

Ornery Franklin Street Bridge yields to Bob Michel Bridge

PEORIA, Ill (AP) The Franklin St Bridge 1,800 feet of concrete and steel that some­times seemed downright ornery will no longer frustrate com­muters, clip towboats or collapse in the Illinois River.

Alter 145 years of trouble, the old bridge has been replaced by a new, $50 million span that has no 30-degree curves or moving parts.

The Franklin Street Bridge was first built in 1848 and was swept away a year later by high water. Rebuilt in 1896, it collapsed in 1903. Rebuilt again in 1909, it col­lapsed within a month.

The thing seemed cursed.

Although the drawbridge erect­ed in 1911 has stood to this day, its frequent closings caused motorists and barge operators no end of aggravation and gave pundits a wealth of material.

“Death, taxes and the closing of the Franklin Street Bridge …

always with us,” remarked a 1955 Peoria newspaper editorial.

The bridge regularly got stuck in the raised position, stranding drivers on either side. Repairs could take days because parts often had to be custom-made at local machine shops.

“It’s an old bridge and rather antiquated,” said Roger Rocke, Illinois Department of Transporta­tion engineer, in something of an understatement.

Cars have regularly collided on the bridge’s steel deck as it rou­tinely iced over In winter.

Some drivers had trouble with the curve built into the bridge to sidestep submerged remains of previous spans. One motorist plunged to his death by driving through the railing and into the river.

An occasional car got wedged in the crevice created as the spans raised.

Towboats regularly banged into its pilings trying to squeeze through its 60-foot-wide opening on the side of the river channel. Other barges lost their communi­cations gear trying to slip under the bridge.

“It’s just about the largest barge- traffic obstruction on the Illinois River,” Rocke said.

Probably the biggest disruption to barge traffic came in October 1967. when barges and tows lined up at the bridge for about an hour. They were unable to contact the bridge tender on his radio to get it raised.

It turned out that he was dead of a heart attack.

Serious talk of replacing the bridge started in the 1940s.

In November 1989 then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner arrived in Peoria with a $10.8 million check to launch what he called “one of the most needed replacements in the country.”

On Thursday officials opened the Bob Michel Bridge, a nearly 2,200-foot-long structure expected to carry about 20,000 vehicles per day. The four-lane span, just south of the Franklin Street Bridge, will have pedestrian sidewalks and space for future bicycle paths but no curves or moving parts.

IDOT engineer Dale Risinger said the bridge will be dismantled over the course of next year, at a cost of about $1 million.


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