Originally Posted Online: May 13, 2013, 8:34 pm
Last Updated: May 14, 2013, 12:13 am

Preservation group offers aid for Sylvan Island bridge

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Dawn Neuses, dneuses@qconline.com

The Moline Historic Preservation Commission is concerned about the closing of Sylvan Island bridge, highlighting its historic significance Monday while offering to help.

On April 25, the city closed the 141-year-old pedestrian bridge leading to Sylvan Island because of safety concerns.

"We are here to help if we can," commission President Barb Sandberg told park officials who attended the commission's meeting on Monday.

"There is no doubt this is a historic property," she said."This is one we want to keep our eyes on. We want to maintain access to the park."

In a presentation at the meeting, commissioner Curtis Roseman said Sylvan Island was created when the Corps of Engineers dug a channel in limestone, which allowed two dams to be built -- one to power factories on the Rock Island Arsenal and the other to power riverfront industrial development in Moline.

Built in 1872 for horse and wagon traffic, the bridge -- and the railroad bridge to the east that also leads to the island -- are two of the oldest structures in Moline and perhaps the oldest spans anywhere on the Mississippi River, Mr. Roseman said.

The island was the site of a steel mill that eventually closed. In the past 40 years, volunteers turned the island into a park with walking trails, mountain bike trails and a portage.

"The island is a unique recreation place with great history, and the two bridges are part of that," Mr. Roseman said.

The structural condition of the bridge is in question. The city has had five structural assessments on the bridge, dating back to 1960, which report progressive deterioration. A 1972 report by the Corps of Engineers recommended the bridge be removed.

Laura Duran, Moline's park and recreation director, told the commission it is not known what exactly is wrong with the bridge. Past structural engineering reports did not include an analysis of the steel underneath, she said.

"We are concerned about the entire bridge," Ms. Duran said.

She said she has requested proposals from structural engineers to assess the entire structure, to report on what is wrong and to determine if it can be fixed. Once the park board or city funds such a study, she said, it will take up to a couple of months before it will be completed.

She added the city wants the bridge and island open to the public.

"Safety is our priority," she said.