The reopening of the Jefferson Street bridge is likely a month away, and that depends on things going right in the days ahead.
The drawbridge crossing the Des Plaines River into downtown Joliet has been closed for repairs since June 2020 with estimated reopening dates now being pushed back a fourth time.
The latest delay is not coming as a big surprise.
“There was skepticism that it will get done on time,” Megan Millen, chair of the Joliet City Center Partnership, which promotes the downtown business district, said Tuesday. “October is the time they said, and October is quickly ending.”
The October estimate was made in March, followed by Millen and other downtown leaders joining Mayor Bob O’Dekirk in successfully urging the state to convert the Cass Street bridge into a two-way route to ease the congestion created with the Jefferson Street bridge shut-down.
The latest delay is due to gear replacement parts, which arrived three weeks ago, not quite lining up and leading to needed adjustments before the bridge can be put back into service.
“All the parts have to fit within one one-thousandth of an inch,” said Illinois Department of Transportation spokeswoman Maria Castaneda.
IDOT maintains the Joliet drawbridges that were built in the 1930s.
Transportation officials point to the age of the mechanical bridges as the cause for long outages as they wait for broken parts to be custom-made because they typically are not kept in stock anywhere. In this case, the parts aren’t quite lining up with the aged bridge, Castaneda said.
“They’re the right parts but they’re new,” Castaneda said. “They’re fine-tuning the bridge so it’s exactly meeting up to where these parts fit.”
A company that does the line boring needed to make the adjustments is coming to the site this week to gauge just what is needed to make the new parts line up with the old bridge. That job will take a few days, Castaneda said.
Once that’s done, the new parts can be installed, which will take about two weeks. The bridge then will be tested and inspected while being operated with the new parts, which could take another couple of days.
If the parts don’t work right, that will lead to another delay.
If the parts do work right, IDOT then will complete work needed for future remote operation of the Joliet drawbridges from a central location. That will take another week, but IDOT decided it was better to do it now than to shut down the Jefferson Street bridge again later to do it.
Castaneda said much of the work needed for remote operation has been done “while the bridge was down. To finish that, the bridge has to be in good working order.”
Add another condition to the timetable.
“All this work is very weather permitting,” Castaneda said.
A wet November could delay the job some more.
Put it all together and Castaneda’s estimate is “around Thanksgiving,” which she offers while pointing to the what-ifs that could get in the way.
“It’s a big disappointment,” Millen said. “But there’s nothing we can do. We’re at their mercy to get it fixed. I think everyone will be happy when it is.”