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Waukegan calls for emergency fix on Mathon Bridge

The east end GrAvenue bridge over UniPacific
Railroad tracks has been rated as 'poor' conditiby U.S.
Department Transportation's National Bridge Inventory. |

The east end of the Grand Avenue bridge over the Union Pacific
Railroad tracks has been rated as in "poor" condition by the U.S.
Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory. | Dan Moran~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 16, 2013 2:42AM

On a bad day, Waukegan city officials have said, the state of the Grand Avenue bridge east of Sheridan Road is so bad that the Union Pacific Railroad tracks can be viewed through the holes in the pavement.

Summertime asphalt patching has managed to cover up the more obvious flaws for now, but the situation on the 45-year-old bridge is such that the City Council approved an emergency measure on Monday, July 15, “to prevent concrete from falling on humans or passing trains.”

“It’s got to be done, otherwise we’re going to have a major lawsuit,” Public Works director Tom Hagerty said of the $155,000 task of installing a protective cover on the underside of what is known locally as the Mathon Bridge.

But while that undercoat process will keep chipped concrete from falling below, it won’t address an overall deck and structure that are listed as poor by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.

With this reality in mind, the council also took a major step toward a complete renovation by approving a $322,000 contract with Baxter & Woodman for phase-two engineering of a superstructure replacement.

The expenditure primarily uses Federal Highway Bridge Program funds, which offers an 80/20 split with local governments, meaning the city is responsible for $64,400. Waukegan took the first step toward replacing the bridge in February 2012 when it approved a $124,800 contract for a phase-one engineering study, which included $24,960 in local funds.

Exactly how much the bridge-reconstruction project will cost is among the factors to be determined in the engineering phase, but Hagerty offered a general estimate of $5 million.

The result, he said, would be “a lot better than what we have now — a pothole-ridden road.”

Both Mayor Wayne Motley and Hagerty said Monday that debris can fall off the 127-foot span east of the Amstutz Expressway from bowing when traffic rolls across it.

The bridge is primarily used by passenger vehicles heading to and from the harbor and beach areas, since it is not rated for truck traffic exceeding 72,000 pounds.

The segment just to the west, which carries Grand Avenue over the Amstutz, was rehabbed in 2008 as the city, like communities across the U.S., tries to address deteriorating crossings. According to the National Bridge Inventory, 36 percent of Waukegan’s 20 bridges have a deck condition rated as poor.

The inventory uses a 9-to-zero scale to judge bridge decks, superstructures and substructures, with the ratings ranging from “excellent” to “failed.”

Poor comes in at No. 4, meaning the segment in question has “advanced corrosion, deterioration, cracking or chipping, (and) significant erosion of concrete bridge piers.”

The Mathon Bridge’s poor rating is a notch above “serious” condition, a status that warns “local failures are possible.”

It is two steps above “serious” condition, which calls for a closure.

While the city proceeds on a complete overhaul that would require a significant contribution of federal or state dollars, the $155,000 emergency repair will be drawn from Motor Fuel Tax Funds.

At one point during Monday’s discussion, 8th Ward Ald. William Valko asked if the undercoating improvements could wait until the entire structure is replaced.

“We have to do it now,” said Hagerty, “before, God forbid, something drops down and crashes through a train.”

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