The University of Michigan feared that a bridge failure could limit access to the hospital
ANN ARBOR, MI – As the main access bridge to the Michigan Medicine Complex in Ann Arbor deteriorates, University of Michigan officials hope to avoid repeating what happened to another pair of city bridges over a decade ago.
In 2009, after an engineering firm postponed repairing or replacing the crumbling East Stadium boulevard bridges near Michigan Stadium, the city warned the city of the danger of football-sized chunks of concrete falling on the people below.
After a bridge inspection revealed problems with at least one of the girders, traffic was reduced to one lane in each direction in 2009 and remained so for nearly three years before the city finally reconstructed the two spans for about $ 23 million.
Now attention is focused on the East Medical Center Drive Bridge, which runs from Fuller Road over the railroad tracks to the heavily-visited medical complex of the university.
University planner Sue Gott recalled the stadium bridge saga at a city council meeting last month when councilors hesitated over a $ 1 million design contract for the refurbishment and expansion of the East Medical Center Drive bridge, a project that could ultimately cost over $ 8 million.
Ann Arbor officials question Michigan Medicine’s proposed bridge widening
“I just want to make sure people understand that one of our concerns is the potential – at the next inspection on the bridge, if further deterioration is found – that weight restrictions could be put in place,” God told city officials. “And while we hope, of course, that this will not be the case and that the employees have felt quite comfortable with it, we also know that you want to get a good, safe and functioning bridge.”
Michael Rein, UM Community Relations Director, described the bridge as “distressed” and “failing” and said UM addressed it with a sense of urgency.
Acting city administrator John Fournier declined, saying residents shouldn’t worry about the condition of the bridge or think it is failing.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Ann Arbor News / MLive recently received a copy of the city’s latest inspection report showing the East Medical Center Drive Bridge, built in 1982, in “poor” condition. The inspection was carried out in October 2020 and the report was prepared in February.
“The overall condition of the structure is poor,” the report said, noting that the expansion joints over the pillars are in poor condition and the pillars are in fair to poor condition. “Due to the poor condition of the north pier cap, the bridge deck and the leaky deck joints, it is recommended that the inspection frequency be maintained at 12 months.”
That makes the bridge due for another inspection this month to assess its current condition.
God reminded of weight restrictions that restricted the use of the old stadium bridges due to the poor conditions. If this happens to the East Medical Center Drive Bridge, it could be a real challenge for hospital patients and ambulances, she said.
“So that’s one of the reasons I think we care about the work moving forward,” she said.
After hearing the university’s concerns, the council voted 9-2 on September 20 to postpone review of the bridge draft contract to October 18, with only Councilors Elizabeth Nelson and Jeff Hayner opposed the delay.
Other council members have raised concerns about widening the bridge that spans a four-lane road over the Amtrak rail line. They want to see more justification for this other than just UM saying it should be expanded for vehicles entering and exiting the medical center and for possible future road widening.
Nelson, D-4th Ward, said last week that she shares UM’s concerns about delaying repairs and getting into a different situation like the old stadium bridges.
The city is at the end of a lengthy process of working with UM and “this pulls the project under the feet at the last second,” she said.
The potential need for future road extensions should now be addressed as part of the bridge renovation, Nelson said. Debates about how this latitude is used – be it space for more car traffic or non-motorized uses – can take place later, she said.
“To suspect this plan for the second time based on general opposition to road construction is absurd,” she said.
Mayor Christopher Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.
Councilor Jen Eyer, D-4th Ward, argued last month that the road widening goes against the city’s Vision Zero goals to improve road safety and the city’s A2Zero climate protection goals.
The final inspection report found that the bridge’s concrete deck was in good condition, but there were several cracks with the northern span being in the worst condition.
The structural steel was found overall in good condition, but in poor condition at several girder ends. Abutments were found in good condition but with hairline cracks.
Problems with the piers need to be closely monitored and adding temporary supports may be warranted, the city’s engineering firm DLZ Michigan Inc. said.
“We know that a renovation project is currently being considered for this structure, but it is also on hold,” it said. “There are several repairs that should be completed in the short term (listed below as a high priority) if a major reconstruction or rehabilitation project is postponed beyond 1-2 years (beyond 2021-2022).”
This includes removing and replacing expansion and construction joints, replacing the cap on the north pillar, carrying out substructure repairs, painting the structural steel and removing vegetation.
It could cost about $ 3.9 million to make the recommended repairs, the report said.
The additional cost of widening the bridge would be borne by UM, while the city and UM would split the renovation costs 50-50, city engineer Nick Hutchinson said last month, telling the city council that the project is scheduled for 2023.
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