The Brandon Road bridge has broken down 10 times, leading to almost a full year of downtime since problems first developed with a center lock mechanism Sept. 21, 2016.
A $3.2 million maintenance project designed to fix the recurring problems is planned for later this year.
The repeated shutdowns have become a source of frustration for people who use the drawbridge just outside Joliet as a preferred route for crossing the Des Plaines River.
“It’s getting to the point where it just seems like it’s always broken,” said Norm Fanning, an Elwood resident who uses Brandon Road when the bridge is open.
So do other people, especially older drivers who want to avoid the semitrailer traffic they otherwise encounter on Route 53 and use the Brandon Road bridge to get to and from Joliet, Fanning said.
“They talk about it all the time. They’re so mad,” he said.
Both breakdowns, like the eight that preceded them, were because of problems with the bridge center lock mechanism, according to information provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
IDOT maintains the Brandon Road bridge and five other drawbridges in downtown Joliet that cross the Des Plaines River and connect the East Side of the city with the West Side.
“They’re all unique in their own way,” IDOT resident engineer Truman Price said. “The one thing they have in common is they’re all old.”
The bridges were built in the 1930s.
“They’re from another generation in terms of design,” Price said. “A lot of the parts have to be custom made.”
The manufacturers available to do the work are few, he said. The current shutdown has been prolonged because the manufacturer making the part shuts down in February to do inventory.
This repair job, like those that have preceded it, were intended to be temporary fixes that would keep the bridge operating until IDOT put out the contract for the major construction and maintenance project planned for this year, Price said.
That project includes complete replacement of the center lock, steel repairs, deck work, mechanical maintenance and other items.
“I think we’re much more confident that this repair will be a complete repair,” Price said.
Work is expected to begin sometime this summer. The project could last six months to a year depending on whether work is interrupted by the winter, Price said. IDOT will try to put the bridge back into operation in the winter if the project is suspended because of cold weather, he said.
The center lock mechanism depends on structural, mechanical and electrical elements coming together in a function that can go awry if the bridge alignment is off by even a thousandth of an inch, Price said.
“The big problem right now is the structural repair, which is the real fix,” he said. “The mechanical piece needs a clean, flat surface that doesn’t move.”
A steel girder leading to the center lock is deformed, leading to uneven connections and breakdowns in the mechanism. That girder will be repaired in the overhaul, Price said.
Fanning, who is 87, said he hopes to live to see the day when the Brandon Road bridge will become a reliable route across the Des Plaines River again.
Told the upcoming overhaul could take up to a year, he said, “I’ll make it one way or another, but I ain’t going to like it.”