Brandon Road getting attention

1930s-era infrastructure is a key crossing point for cars and barges

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The Brandon Road crossing of the Des Plaines River has become a newsy place.

Fixing a drawbridge that continuously breaks down, maintaining the 85-year-old lock and dam, and even stopping Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes all have become issues at Brandon Road, a somewhat isolated spot of unincorporated Joliet Township where 1930s-era infrastructure handles thousands of vehicles daily and millions of shipping tonnage each year.

The bridge

Most people encounter Brandon Road when trying to cross the drawbridge.

The bridge, built in the 1930s, has been breaking down repeatedly since late 2016 because of problems with the center lock mechanism that connects the two ends of the bridge.

The bridge last broke down Nov. 2. The Illinois Department of Transportation plans to have it reopened this week. Keeping it open has been a challenge.

"We've tried everything," said Sarah Wilson, bridge maintenance engineer for IDOT. "The next thing we're going to do is let a contract next year to replace a majority of the center lock. We've just been replacing parts."

Out of the Joliet area's six drawbridges, two have the kind of center lock mechanism used at Brandon Road. The other is at Ruby Street. The Brandon and Ruby center lock mechanism ejects a steel rod that locks the two bridge ends together and withdraws to release them.

"We haven't refurbished the entire unit, and that's what we plan to do do," Wilson said.

The lock

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam is among five such structures built in the 1930s and 1940s along the Illinois Waterway system to facilitate river shipping between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam was completed in 1933.

"They were originally designed for a 50-year life span," said Allen Marshall, communication chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. "We've been able to expand the life span by rehabilitation and major maintenance work."

The Army Corps recently announced construction plans at six Illinois Waterway locks for 2020.

At the Brandon Road lock, bulkhead recesses will be installed and used to dewater the lock in 2023 for an inspection and possible construction.

The fish

The 2023 work could include an Asian carp barrier if Congress approves the funding, Marshall said.

The $779-million proposal is open to public comment during a review period that runs until Dec. 24 and can be found on the Rock Island District's website.

The plan includes an electric barrier, acoustic deterrent, an air bubble curtain and other measures designed to keep Asian carp from getting to Lake Michigan.