[JUNE 6, 2006]
Another road season is here and the project that
has topped the Logan County Highway Department list for several
years was still not scheduled. County highway 10, the Elkhart-Mount
Pulaski blacktop, has come overdue for repairs. The holdup: what to
do with the historic Elkhart bridge that the roadway runs under.
Ownership and liability for the bridge was put to question early in
2005. The county's road and bridge committee had Tom Hickman, then
the highway department engineer, send a letter to the village of
Elkhart asking them to take ownership or find someone else who
could. The bridge was going to be destroyed in order to make the
roadway wider and safer.
With no answers yet, the matter was
pressed again last month with another letter sent to Elkhart from
the highway department. The village of Elkhart met last week and
rejected ownership. The board was split on the matter: half for
saving it for its historic value and charm; half seeing it as a
In the meantime, local historical preservationists also set to
work to get the bridge attention and possibly find funding to
alleviate traffic hazards and maintain it.
The county's road and bridge committee and representatives of the
Logan County Highway Department, Elkhart Historical Society, Abraham
Lincoln Tourism Bureau of Logan County and the Illinois Department
of Transportation reviewed the status of the road and the bridge on
County engineer Bret Aukamp just received a letter from the
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency asking the county to "hold
off" action against the bridge as they look into possible funding.
Geoff Ladd and Gillette Ransom of the Elkhart Historical Society
said that the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and Illinois
Department of Transportation have agreed to help with the issue.
Ladd and Ransom will be staying in close contact with those entities
to keep it moving.
Ransom said that she will also be contacting another supportive
agency that could help find funding. The Landmark Preservation
Council of Illinois named the Gillett Memorial Arch as one of the
"Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois" in 2005.
The walk-over bridge not only creates a scenic sensation, but it
is most highly valued for its links to Logan County's founding
fathers and most well-known former citizens, including Gov. Richard
J. Oglesby, John Logan and President Abraham Lincoln.
However, it creates several problems. When it was built in 1915,
slower and narrower horses and buggies passed under it. The roadbed
from either side peaks under the center. The narrowness and limited
vision to see oncoming traffic now create a traffic hazard.
The historical society looked into assuming liability for the
structure, but the latest insurance quote was $3,700 a year. This
was much lower than a previous quote.
In the meantime, it was agreed by all present that the road has
reached such a state of deterioration as to becoming "a hazard
itself" as committeeman Dale Voyles said. "People traveling that
roadway have a right to expect it to be safe to travel," he said.
While it is late in the season to be letting out bids, it was
decided to go ahead with the road improvements without addressing
Aukamp was asked if it could still get done for this year.
He responded that it may not be done for the start of the school
year but definitely can be done this year.
Voyles summed up the county's commitment: "We'd like to come up
with a solution that will stand the test of time." He added that it
be noted that we're all working together to find a solution.
Several ideas have been developed that would address these
Raising the roadbed on both sides would reduce or eliminate the
Adding caution signal lights in advance of the bridge would
create driver awareness.
Over the past month, several avenues were explored to solve once and
for all the ownership, responsibility and safety issues surrounding
bridge (John P. Gillett Memorial Bridge in Elkhart).
Elkhart Historical Society investigated working with the village of
Elkhart to solve this issue. We also looked at a less expensive
insurance policy that the society could take on for the bridge, and
indeed we did get a new quote in the $3,700-a-year range.
However, while these local efforts were going on, the state of
Illinois reinvigorated their investigation of this issue as well,
and as of June 5 they have asked the historical society to hold off
on privately insuring the bridge until perhaps a more comprehensive
long-term preservation solution can be found for this unique
Indeed, the state of Illinois, through the offices of Illinois
Department of Transportation and Illinois Historic Preservation
Agency, has made it clear that this bridge is "protected." It is in
the process of being added to the National Register of Historic
Places, and because of that and other protections afforded to this
historic structure, any alteration or removal plans would first have
to go through a review process by the Illinois Historic Preservation
It is our conclusion, therefore, that the bridge is here to stay,
and that now is the time for officials on a local, state and perhaps
even a federal level to all work together to find the best long-term
solution for the preservation of the bridge and that we all work
together to implement whatever is needed to make the road underneath
as safe as possible, including regular maintenance, road repairs,
possible re-engineering of the road underneath and perhaps
installation of signal lights within one-fourth mile of each
entrance to the underpass.
It is critical that the Illinois Department of Transportation,
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Landmark Preservation
Council, Elkhart Historical Society and Logan County Highway
Department continue a process of working together for a final
solution that will offer the best protection for the future of this
bridge -- a structure that may well outlive all of us who have been
involved on one side or the other of this debate. I am urging that
we now all work together to reach a solution -- a solution that we
are convinced must involve long-term ownership and preservation.
We would like to thank all the entities that have been working
with us and that are continuing to help us with this issue.
On a side note -- those of you who are interested in seeing this
historic structure should make plans to come to Elkhart this weekend
for their all-town open house celebration, June 10 and 11. [Article]