Downer bridge project on budget and on time
By Stephanie Lulay email@example.com August 4, 2012 5:14PM
Construction continues on the Downer Place bridges in Aurora on Thursday, August 2, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Want a sneak peak of what the Downer Place bridges will look like when the project is finished?
Aurora spokesman Kevin Stahr said that mock-ups of the precast panels that will line the bridge are being set up outside of City Hall, 44 E. Downer Place.
A precast bridge handrail should be on display outside of City Hall soon, too.
A prototype fixture of the decorative lighting that will line the bridge will be on display soon in front of the David L. Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer Place.
— Stephanie Lulay
Updated: September 6, 2012 6:21AM
AURORA — Six months down, three to go.
Downtown’s tightly timed Downer Place bridge replacement project has moved into the construction phase.
The piers and abutments that will support the new bridges to span the Fox River on Downer Place are now being built, and deconstruction of the old bridges has been completed, in a project that began in February.
So far, the bridge project is on schedule and on budget, city spokesman Kevin Stahr said Friday.
The bridges are still expected to reopen to traffic in November, Stahr said, and the entire project — which will include work to finish up the streetscape — is slated to be completed in spring 2013.
Although crews are on time today, they have faced some challenges during the last few months.
Two weeks ago, crews were running behind on the construction schedule, but they’ve since made up that time, said Jeff Gillan of Coal City-based D Construction, project manager for the Downer bridges site. HR Green is the contractor on the project.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Gillan said as about 20 workmen labored at the site last week.
The summer drought that has plagued the Fox Valley has actually worked in construction crews’ favor, said Ron Houseman, superintendent for the project. In February, the Fox River was 4 feet deep. Today, it’s 2 feet deep, he said.
“Early on in the job, the water didn’t help us,” Housman said. “We were out here with wet suits and ice.”
Working in water comes with challenges, Gillan said. Crews are required to take environmental precautions such as laying sediment bags to keep debris from ending up in the Fox River.
“Just working in water in general makes it more difficult,” Housman said.
Stahr said crews did face difficulty trying to seal the coffer dams to the river’s bottom.
The drought made “the coffer dams easier,” Housman said.
The tight streetscape on downtown Downer has made getting trucks in and out difficult, Gillan said.
“We’re in a confined space and trying to keep everything open (has been a challenge),” he said. “We’ve worked hard to leave as much space for parking as possible.”
Last winter, Beth Standish, co-operator of River’s Edge Cafe at 18 E. Downer Place, said she hoped her faithful clientele would still make their way to the cafe after work to replace the century-old bridges began on Feb. 6.
And faithful patrons were still milling about the cafe last week — but owner Dan Hites said business is down by about 25 percent.
“It’s natural. You get in a construction area, so walk-in traffic is non-existent now,” Hites said.
The cafe is on the edge of the construction site. The sidewalk entrance is edged by orange construction netting and plywood construction staging.
Running a business in a construction zone has been “organized chaos,” Hites said.
When bridge construction began in February, John Galles, owner of John-Os Main Surplus at 65 E. Downer Place, said he’d get through bridge construction just like he’s gotten through many challenges since opening the business in 1947.
Six months into the project, the surplus store across from City Hall is doing fine, Galles said.
Customers have still been able to park in front of the business most of the time.
“I’m satisfied,” Galles said Friday.
“It’s tough going through, but the working crew has been doing a tough, great job for us.”
He said that although there are 18-foot trucks moving through the construction area all the time, crews have consistently kept traffic lanes open and moving through to South Water Street.
“On Thursday, they did 30 trucks of cement while keeping one lane open,” Galles said.
Hites said the general consensus among Downer Place business owners he’s talked to is that construction is going well.
“There’s been no surprises,” Hites said.
The bridge construction will pave the way for a new downtown parking plan and two-way streets on Downer Place and Benton Street downtown, something Hites is glad the mayor’s office is addressing.
“The perspective is next year is going to be lovely,” Hites said. “We’ll get through this and come out better after all of this is done.”