A bridge too far

Complications cloud historic bridge project in Tama

Tama's historic Lincoln Highway Bridge was built in 1915 and is now the focus of a restoration effort being planned by the City of Tama in partnership with the Iowa Department of Transportation. -- News Chronicle File Photo

An effort to repair one of Tama’s oldest pieces of infrastructure has met yet another hurdle.

In early October the Tama City Council heard from engineering firm Shuck-Britson regarding bids to repair the historic Lincoln Highway Bridge on 5th Street in Tama.

The issue during the Oct. 4 meeting was that the three bids received were significantly higher than expected.

The low bid of $338,873 was more than double the estimated cost of $150,000 the city acquired in 2020.

Following the Oct. 4 council meeting it was yet unclear if the Iowa DOT would commit to funding the remaining balance of the project if the total cost was higher than the estimate.

According to City Clerk Alyssa Devig, officials from the Iowa DOT informed the city not long after the council met that they would be open to still funding the project, even at a higher cost than originally estimated.

As of right now, the city is not on the hook for funding any portion of the bridge project. Grants and donations for the project in the amount of $69,000 were previously secured from the Lincoln Highway Association, Prairie Rivers of Iowa and the Mansfield Foundation as well as private donors. The Iowa DOT then planned to cover the remaining cost.

However, on Oct. 12 the Iowa DOT informed the city that none of the bidders would be awarded the project due to missing instructions within the bidding documents. Per Iowa Code, construction projects involving state agencies are required to make an effort to contact targeted small businesses for the work being done on the project.

No documentation of such an effort was provided by Shuck-Britson, the engineering firm overseeing the bidding process on behalf of the city.

Now in order for the project to move forward, the city would have to re-advertise bids for construction, but could do so no sooner than January 2022.

The same companies could resubmit bids for the project, however the fear is that with the original bids being opened during the public hearing on Oct. 4, the low bidder could raise their price knowing that they were the cheapest bid by more than $100,000 earlier this month.

Though the council agreed no decisions could be made until the next round of bidding is complete, multiple members wondered if the more appropriate solution for the bridge would be to remove the historic guide rails and lamp posts and install a box culvert that would be less expensive to maintain and more conducive to truck traffic coming into town off U.S. Highway 30.

Should that occur, components of the current bridge could be relocated to a park or other designated area within the city.

The issue that came up in discussion was that the lifespan of the bridge, should it undergo historic rehabilitation, would be 15 years. Given how prolonged the process has been over the past five years to acquire funding for the historical preservation effort, the prospect of starting all over again in 10 years or so appeared daunting to some.

Conversely, the lifespan of the box culvert option would also be 15 years, but repair, maintenance and replacement would be less expensive and more routine for contractors or public agencies to undertake.

Once the Tama Council re-advertises bids in January, it is expected for this second bidding process to be complete by February. According to Devig, the timeline leading to an August 2022 project completion date would remain intact if a contract is awarded yet this winter.