RRVT bridge collapses in ice jam south of Jefferson

Greene County Conservation Director gives eye-witness account

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The 100-year-old bridge on the Raccoon River Valley Trail between 265th Street and 290th Street south of Jefferson collapsed Friday, and Greene County Conservation Director Dan Towers witnessed the fall. Photo courtesy Greene County Conservation Department

“It could always be worse, but that’s bad enough right there,” Greene County Conservation Director Dan Towers said Monday as he shared pictures with the Greene County Supervisors of the collapsed bridge over the Raccoon River on the Raccoon River Valley Trail south of Jefferson.

The 100-year-old bridge collapsed Friday, and Towers saw it fall.

“There was no ice jam there. It was flowing through, so it wasn’t that an ice jam put pressure on it,” he said. “When the biggest chunks came down, it was like a battering ram. It’d shake the bridge. I kind of wondered what would happen if it continued.

“Pretty soon I saw some hex braces disappear, and then a pier or two, and then the cross pieces holding the load bearing parts started dropping. As soon as that happened, that 60-foot stretch just got a big gully in it. I think the rerod in the concrete deck held for a while. It sagged two foot or so.

“I went to town to get some fencing to block off the trail, and when I came back the bridge was gone.”

Towers said it took him about 25 minutes to get the fencing and return, and by then the only ice on the river was random small chunks.

The river crested Friday at 19’ 7”, the second highest crest since 1947 and 6 inches higher than in 1993. According to Towers, six of the nine highest crests have been in the past 20 years, and half of them have been in March and included ice.

Towers said he talked with county engineer Wade Weiss, who suggested that when the water level goes down, the first step will be to have a bridge consultant look at it. The replacement bridge does not have to meet the same weight requirements as the original bridge because the loads are lighter.

Neither Towers nor Weiss would guess how much it might cost, but Weiss said it would be expensive. There are seven or eight piers missing.

There is no timetable for replacing it, but Towers hopes it will be finished before he retires in a year-and-a-half.

“There’s not a lot that can be done if the river stays high all year. There are just too many variables,” he said.

The Raccoon River Valley Trail between 265th Street and 290th Street is closed until further notice. County board chair John Muir said the county would not post an alternate route, but Towers said bicyclists “will find a way.”

Weiss reported the secondary roads crew worked Saturday and Sunday on county roads, using drags to fill in the worst ruts on the unpaved roads. They started early while the road surfaces were still frozen and worked until they thawed and got sloppy again in the afternoon.

The crew spent Monday and Tuesday hauling material to repair places the road washed out, and by mid-week they will go back to running the drags, depending on road conditions. Weiss said the drags help dry the material and level the surface.

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