Campaign begins to save iconic Long Grove bridge

The iconic, 111-year-old Long Grove bridge is the focus of a preservation campaign.

On the western edge of the downtown business district, the fate of the pin-connected steel-truss bridge has been a source of discussion since village officials cited its poor condition about three years ago and the idea of a two-lane replacement surfaced.

With the issue expected to be decided this year, supporters of the old span over Buffalo Creek on Robert Parker Coffin Road this week launched a save-the-bridge campaign featuring an online petition.

Leading the effort are the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association, Long Grove Community Church, Montessori School of Long Grove and the village's historical society. About 1,800 petition signatures were received as of Wednesday afternoon.

Ryan Messner, chairman of the business association's executive committee, said the covered bridge is worth saving because it represents Long Grove. He plans to seek further assistance from the nonprofit Landmarks Illinois, which has been involved in preserving historic places since 1971.

"People come to the town because of the historic nature of the bridge," Messner said Wednesday. "If you construct it as a two-lane, it's just another bridge. We lose that (identity) of what Long Grove is. When you say Long Grove, most people say, 'Oh, I know. The bridge.'"

An image of the village-owned bridge, which received its cover in 1972, is part of Long Grove's official government logo.

Amy Gayton, who lives about a block from the bridge, said part of its charm is when cars rumble over its tire plates.

"It sickens me to imagine it looking any differently, sounding any differently as I go across those metal treads," Gayton said.

Believed to date to 1906, the bridge's possible repair costs have been central to the debate.

Each side also has safety concerns. Those who want the bridge repaired say the one-lane configuration calms traffic and keeps downtown pedestrians safer, but backers of the new span contend the entire village would benefit because fire trucks could cross Buffalo Creek on Robert Parker Coffin Road.

Village Trustee Stanley Borys voiced concern about the inability of fire trucks to use the old span and potential renovation expenses after Messner promoted the save-the-bridge campaign at Tuesday night's village board meeting. Borys said residents should receive as much information as possible before a decision occurs.

"I think it's good that you're getting (signatures), because it's raising people's awareness," Borys told Messner.

An estimate from village engineering consultant Gewalt Hamilton Associates Inc. shows a full bridge restoration could cost up to $700,000. With $500,000 already set aside by the village for bridge work, Messner contends budget allocations and possibly private fundraising could cover the remaining $200,000.

If the village decides to tear down the bridge and build a new one, it could receive financial assistance from a federal and state replacement program. The program cannot be used for the one-lane bridge because it would not meet modern requirements to accommodate greater vehicle width and weight, officials said.

Long Grove's share of a $1.7 million, two-lane bridge could be from $340,444 to a "worst-case" $687,984, with state and federal money paying the rest, according to Gewalt Hamilton's 2015 report. A new bridge could have decorative elements such as a cover.

Mayor Angie Underwood, who prefers the one-lane bridge, said updated cost projections are expected to be available at the village board's Jan. 24 meeting. Underwood and other village board members are not seeking re-election in April, so a different set of officials might decide the issue.

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  Long Grove's covered bridge is under repair after it was struck by an SUV in November. Ryan Messner, chairman of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association executive committee, discusses a campaign to save the village's one-lane covered bridge. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
  Ryan Messner, chairman of the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association executive committee, chats on Wednesday with Aaron Underwood, president of the Long Grove Historical Society. They are part of a campaign to save the village's one-lane covered bridge. Gilbert R. Boucher II/
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