Bridge Watch: Tama Council to seek third round of bids

T-R PHOTO BY DARVIN GRAHAM – The Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama is over 100 years old, and city officials are currently in the process of seeking bids to restore it.

TAMA — Restoration efforts continue for the historic Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama following the latest city council meeting on March 21.

The council voted unanimously in favor of a plan to seek a third round of bidding for construction work to repair the bridge that is over a century old. The previous two bidding attempts, both conducted through the city’s engineering firm Shuck-Britson, hit roadblocks which have left the project in limbo over the past six months.

In the fall of 2021, the first round of bidding yielded three bids that ranged from $338,873 to $732,900, well above the $150,000 estimate the city had previously received. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) then invalidated the bids due to required language about small businesses not being included in the submitted documents.

Shuck-Britson opened a second round of bidding on behalf of the city in January for the same project, and they received no bids. Shuck-Britson engineer Anna Gahm believed one of the key reasons the project failed to attract bidders the second time was due to the timing of the search and contractors already having their 2022 schedules set.

The option approved on Monday will shift the procedural work for the third round of bidding from the city’s contracted engineering firm to the Iowa DOT. Gahm said she felt bids put out by the DOT would reach a wider audience of potential contractors.

The project will first be sent to the DOT for review before they send it out for bids. The process is expected to occur in July with a construction contract to hopefully be awarded in August. Restoration construction would occur during the 2023 season once the weather warms up for the spring.

The funding plan for the current project will remain the same as the city holds around $69,000 in grant funds and donations, and the DOT has committed to covering the remaining cost.

Should the project fail to attract bidders again this summer or if the bids for the work increase beyond the numbers from the first round last fall, the DOT funding commitment could be in jeopardy. The current funding arrangement sets a deadline for the spring of 2023 to have a construction contract signed.

Additionally, City Clerk Alyssa Devig spoke to the council regarding the bridge’s status on the National Register of Historical Places (NRHP). She recommended the council pursue a full renovation of the bridge for the current period rather than attempting to work with the governing body that oversees the NRHP, a process that she said could take two years.

Devig said as the process begins for restoration work in the coming year, the city will also begin to look toward having the bridge reclassified on the NRHP so as to allow for it to be altered in the future without losing its designation.

“We already kind of got the information that the bridge as a whole can’t be moved without probably destroying the railings,” council member Emily Babinat said. “So obviously, we don’t want to do that.”

According to Gahm, the restoration work would prolong the life of the bridge for another 15 years before it would need to be worked on again. The hope, if all goes to plan in the coming years, is to work with the NRHP to have the bridge redesignated on the register from a transportation structure to an arts and culture structure.

Devig said she believed redesignating the bridge on the register would allow for the decorative railings and light posts to be preserved and reused on the bridge but for the floor and the supporting structures underneath the bridge to be fully replaced in 15 years without the bridge being removed from the register.

Following the discussion, several members of the public thanked the council for their efforts in continuing to pursue restoration for the 106-year-old bridge.

“On behalf of those of us that have been working hard in getting the bridge preserved, we thank you for your consideration,” Tama resident Charlie Betz said. “We know it’s not an easy decision by any means. I’m sure everyone here is behind preserving those railings and keeping them on that historic registry. You know nobody crawls under the bridge to look at the bridge structure, right? It’s the railings that people come to see.”

Engineer Anna Gahm of Shuck-Britson addresses the Tama City Council during their regular meeting on March 21. According to Gahm, the restoration plans for the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama will next head to the Iowa DOT for review before the DOT puts them out for a third round of bidding in July with the goal of construction work being completed in 2023.


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