Over the river and through the wood and into the creek you go.
Such incidents have happened across the country — huge tractors, combines and semis dumped into waterways as the bridges buckle under the weight, which happened in Guthrie Center, Iowa. The tractor was pulling equipment with hazardous materials.
Tazewell County has been lucky thus far, but an uncertain future with the state budget and the deteriorating condition of bridges can cause worry.
Small structures that span rivers, creeks, gullies and other obstacles in Tazewell County are deteriorating, but large structure projects across the state get the lion’s share of the state and federal money while township bridges in rural areas see little, if any funding. But while traveling township and county roads, few people take note of the weight limit signs on bridges. Those signs mean something — the bridge can only carry the posted weight limit, said Tazewell County Engineer Craig Fink.
In all, 20 percent of the county bridges are closed, are posted below the legal limit for weight or are legal load only — meaning a permit cannot be issued for anything beyond 80,000 pounds. Farm tractors are being built now that weigh 100,000 pounds without heavy attachments, Fink said.
“These are bridges that the public demanded be installed at some point and time,” said Fink. “Our forefathers said this needs to be a crossing and we’re not even able to afford to repair, rehab or replace.
“It shows you that the view of our policy makers, and probably perhaps reflecting some of the constituency, has changed in the rural areas. And we’ve had the ag sector wanting these larger, heavier vehicles. Right now they’re pushing for 97,000-pound to 120,000 (pound) vehicles. We’re not even serving 80,000 pounds yet.”
Cincinnati Township has not been so lucky in receiving funding for its numerous bridges, mostly small structures. Road Commissioner Ron Hawkins said the bridges there are not posted for reduced weight restrictions, but one look makes one wonder how safe they are.
There are two bridges on Furrow Road with concrete crumbling and rusted rebar showing. Tractors planting and harvesting the crops, and semis taking crops to market pass over the bridges as farmers work on the abundant fields surrounding the area.
There is no money to fix the bridges, said Hawkins. The township could place a referendum on the ballot asking permission from residents to raise the levy to pay for repairs, but Hawkins’ said it would cost about $50 per year per home.
Hawkins said despite the appearance, the bridges are still “structurally sound.” The appearance is “just the surface,” he said. Yet, Hawkins said he would like to see all of them replaced.
“The way I understand it, the bridges were only supposed to have a 25- to 30-year life expectancy, and they’ve been up since I was a kid,” said Hawkins. “The one on Furrow Road (with the S-curve in it) was built in 1971.
“I have some concerns about (the increased weight of farm equipment), but the bridges are agriculture use and there’s no way to stop the tractors unless there’s a load limit put on a bridge. So far, the county has not placed any load limits.”
The Tazewell County Farm Bureau by law cannot have a political action committee to further causes such as a search for state and federal funding.
“Yes, there are bridges that need to be replaced, but the majority of it comes down to cost and funding,” said Doug Godke, director of the Tazewell County Farm Bureau. “The Illinois Farm Bureau has a PAC, but I wouldn’t say that they specifically concentrate on roads and bridges. They concentrate on numerous projects. Roads and bridges are probably one of the items that they do concentrate on. The size and weight of the agricultural equipment continues to grow and I don’t see any change occurring in that particular pattern.”
Some townships have been lucky when it comes to funding for bridges, but only after the bridge could endanger lives.
Fondulac Township in East Peoria received funding in 2012 to replace the old Farmdale Road Bridge that was built in 1953. The bridge failed inspections and it received emergency funding. The $1.3 million bridge project was funded by federal grants and township road and bridge funds.
The bridge, according to Tazewell County Field Engineer Paul Augspurger, was the worst in the county at the time it was replaced. Approximately 2,300 cars a day use the crossing, which helped with the decision to replace it. The worst bridge in the county now is the Manito Road Bridge. It will be replaced next year.
The Ridge Road Bridge in Fondulac Township was replaced after it failed in 2014 at a cost of $919,998. It was paid for through the Jobs Now construction program during former Gov. Pat Quinn’s term. Fondulac Township Road Supervisor Paul Whittington said the township has only three bridges.
“All of these bridges received very low ratings,” said Whittington. “They were in very bad shape.
“So when the county had monies available through the federal programs, then they were replacing the bridges that were in the worst shape. We had two bridges that were in very bad shape, so we were able to use federal money and county bridge money and the township had to participate. If we would have had to replace those bridges ourselves as the township, it would have been an almost impossible task. But, because of federal monies that were available and money through the county we were able to put this together and get these bridges replaced.”
Whittington said the Federal Transportation Bill that was signed last year should furnish some money for other bridges in the county to apply for, but the process is competitive.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin