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MDOT and Amtrak dispute delay rail bridge construction in Kalamazoo

MDOT and Amtrak dispute delay rail bridge construction in Kalamazoo. (WWMT/Jacob Berent)
MDOT and Amtrak dispute delay rail bridge construction in Kalamazoo. (WWMT/Jacob Berent)
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A disagreement between Michigan Department of Transportation and Amtrak has delayed construction on two bridges that are in great need of repair.

The northbound and southbound U.S. Route 131 bridges over KL Avenue and Amtrak’s railroad tracks are 55-years-old. Both bridges were slated to be replaced starting in 2019, but that project has been pushed back to 2023.

MDOT needs to work with Amtrak since the bridges go over Amtrak’s tracks and, according to MDOT communications representative Nick Schirripa, the disagreement stems over Amtrak asking for more control over the project. Amtrak declined to get into fine detail of the matter, but spokesman Marc Magliari said they are trying to work with MDOT to solve the dispute.

Schirripa said the bridges are in fair condition, but structurally deficient. Both were built in 1963, and Schirripa said most bridges have an average lifespan of 30 to 50 years.

“Anybody who's driven that bridge knows, it's not in the greatest condition. Even the driving surface, the decking is not in great shape,” Schirripa said. “We're talking about a bridge that's almost 60-years-old. It's driven on, we have 50,000 vehicles who drive on this bridge every day. It's old, it's worn, it needs to be replaced. Nothing lasts forever.”

Schirripa said the disagreement is over the construction agreement. He said the requests Amtrak is making are “unreasonable.”

"There is some consideration being given to Amtrak here, we are going to have an impact on their railroad, that is fair. But I think it's only fair they make reasonable requests of us. And so far, the requests Amtrak is making of MDOT are unreasonable,” Schirripa said. “Amtrak is also asking MDOT to put clauses into the contract to let Amtrak to add anything to the project they wanted, and would allow them to charge us for anything they deem necessary.”

In the meantime, netting and screen have been placed on the underside of the surface of the bridge to catch any falling debris.

“There is a screen that's installed between the deck beams, under the decking, that will catch chunks of concrete when they fall. These aren't necessarily giant 20 pound chunks of concrete. It could be a small flake, it could be the size of a coin, it could be the size of a golf ball, but, we don't want those falling on the roadway. Our maintenance crews can't do more than they're doing,” Schirripa said.

Repairs and necessary maintenance will be performed in the Spring of 2019, but the project has still been delayed until 2023 due to budget issues for MDOT. Schirripa said if they see any signs the bridge may be failing, they will close it down.

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“If at any point that bridge becomes unsafe for motorists, either on or underneath it, we will close it. We are not going to allow an unsafe bridge to remain open,” said Schirripa.

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