There is no need to close the Interstate 80 bridges over the Des Plaines River, but a $5 million repair job will start in April, the state’s top bridge engineer said Friday.
The Illinois Department of Transportation addressed the details of a 9-month-old inspection report that recently sparked media reports and a threat from Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk to divert traffic away from the bridge if the state did not put forth a plan for repairs.
“We’ll be out there in April,” IDOT bridge maintenance engineer Sarah Wilson said. “Everybody will be able to see us, and they’ll feel the traffic back up.”
Wilson said the $5 million maintenance project could span two construction seasons because of the need to fabricate roughly 1,000 bridge bearings that will be replaced during the repairs.
Residents might expect lane closures at times, she said, but the bridge will remain open during repairs and is safe to use.
Bridge inspection reports from spring 2018 provide a structural evaluation of both the eastbound and westbound bridges as “Intolerable – High Priority for Replacement.”
The superstructure for the westbound bridge is described as “Critical Condition – May Require Closure.”
“Those are terms set by our ratings manual,” Wilson said. “It means we have to pay attention to it and schedule repairs, which is what we are doing.”
Inspectors last visited the bridge in December and have been at the bridge every three months to monitor conditions, she said.
“If we thought things were getting worse, where there could be a serious problem, we’d take immediate action,” Wilson said. “We believe the bridges are safe and can remain open with our continued monitoring and scheduled repairs.”
The maintenance project includes the replacement of steel beams as well as bearings that allow the beams to move when needed.
Wilson said that although “a handful” of bad bearings were detected in the inspections, all 1,000 bearings on the two bridges will be replaced because of their age.
O’Dekirk on Thursday issued an announcement that he would divert traffic away from the bridge if he did not see a plan for the bridge from IDOT.
“We encouraged them to come forward because there is a lot of concern in the community,” he said.