Jefferson bridge closure continues to sting River Rouge
River Rouge — It’s been two months since Wayne County awarded a Grand Haven company a $17 million contract to fix the disabled drawbridge over Jefferson Avenue that connects the cities of Detroit and River Rouge.
And merchants and city officials on River Rouge’s side of bridge want to know: What’s taking so long for work to begin?
Ronie Salem, owner of the Riviera Market, a convenience store on Jefferson about a mile from the bridge, said business is so bad, he’s planning to shut down his hot food counter in the next month.
“We used to sell about 20 pizzas day,” he said. “Now, we sell five. It’s not worth it anymore.”
River Rouge City Councilman and former mayor Dan Cooney said the bridge’s immobility is paralyzing his community.
“It’s turned the city into a dead end street,” he said. “Everything on Jefferson in this city is either dying or dead.”
Located south and east of Interstate 75, the Jefferson Avenue drawbridge over the Rouge River used to be a heavily traveled crossing between Detroit and River Rouge. Wayne County owns and maintains it.
Built in 1922, the bridge is a double-leaf, fixed trunnion bascule bridge, or drawbridge. Bridges like it are sometimes called Chicago-style bascules because they're widely used in the Windy City.
The bridge has been idle since May 2013 when an operator lowered it onto a 670-foot freighter that had been cleared to pass. Police later determined the operator was drunk.
Adding to the area’s woes, a second drawbridge over the Rouge River on nearby Fort Street also has been closed to traffic. MDOT, which maintains the bridge, started work in spring 2013 to replace it.
Like the Jefferson Avenue bridge, the Fort Street bridge is a Chicago bascule that was built in 1922. MDOT officials had aimed to reopen it in mid-June. They said in July it looked more like mid-September.
Now it is expected to reopen by the end of November, according to Diane Cross, MDOT spokeswoman, who said Tuesday crews have finished work on the bridge’s underside.
“(We) hope there will not be any more issues or delays,” she said.
In July, the Wayne County Commission awarded a two-year, $16.7 million contract to bridge construction company Anlaan Corp. to repair the Jefferson Avenue span. Under the contract, Anlaan has one year to complete the project but has an extra 12 months in case of inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances.
Officials said when the contract was awarded that they hoped work on the project would begin in August.
Ryan O’Donnell, president of Anlaan Corp., told The Detroit News in an email he could not comment on the project.
However, Tiffani Jackson, a county spokeswoman, said Anlaan started preliminary work on the bridge last month and the project is scheduled to finish next August, barring any delays.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no heavy machinery around the bridge and construction work appeared yet to begin. The roadway leading up to it remains blocked by orange barrels and construction barricades.
Jackson said the contractor has put in orders for materials, steel is being cut, but plans still need to be reviewed and approved. “Most of the work being done is behind-the-scenes work,” she said. “The contractor is still on track to have the project done by August 2016.”
Still, Cooney said, the crossing has been closed “for way too long.”
“People are suffering,” he said. “And it’s not just River Rouge that’s hurting. All Downriver is suffering.” Cooney believes some businesses have closed, and “people are losing their jobs and it’s not their fault.”
Cooney spearheads a grassroots campaign that aims to raise awareness about the toll the bridge’s inertia is taking on his city. The campaign has a Facebook page and has put up orange signs on some businesses on Jefferson that call on the county to “Fix the Damn Bridge.”
He said one of his greatest fears is the Jefferson Avenue bridge is still years away from opening.
Salem said the Riviera Market has been in his family for 20 years and he took over the business in 1997. Times have gotten so tough, he’s opted to not replace a manager who left and switched to an earlier closing time.
“We used to get a lot of business from Zug Island,” he said. “I’ve never seen it this bad before.”