By Robert Tomlinson
CENTREVILLE — After three months of being closed for extensive repairs, the Langley Covered Bridge is now able to be crossed once again.
On Friday, despite strong wind and snow flurries, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the re-opening of the iconic bridge to traffic.
The ceremony was attended by officials from the St. Joseph County Road Commission, its board, workers from Anlaan Construction, members of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners and members of the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce. Guests got to take a look inside the bridge – and shelter from the cold and snow – prior to the ceremony, taking a closer look at the results of the $3.2 million project.
Work done to the bridge, performed by Anlaan Construction, included replacing the abutments, or the approaches where the cars drive onto the bridge, replacing steel underneath the wood and above the four main beams of the bridge, and a replacement of the wood deck that cars drive on. There is still some painting to be done on some of the wood and the steel; road commission officials say that will be completed in the spring.
The bridge closed at the start of September to begin work, and while initially road commission officials estimated the bridge would reopen after Christmas, delays in some materials pushed back the reopening date to Friday. While the ceremony occurred at noon Friday, the road did not officially open until 5 p.m. that evening. The St. Joseph River had its level lowered near the bridge in part to accommodate the project; the water level will not be going back up until the spring.
Road Commission Engineer Garrett Myland said it was great to finally have the bridge ready to be reopened.
“It’s by far the largest project I’ve worked on so far, and it was definitely an interesting project to do,” Myland said. “I know I’ll never get to work on something like this again, so it’s kinda nice to have something like this once in my career.
“There’s still a couple more things to do, but the majority of the work can all be done from the outside of the bridge,” Myland added.
Road Commission Manager John Lindsey said in a speech during the ceremony that funding the project was an “upward battle” in and of itself. However, the project got some notable contributions from the state’s Local Bridge Fund ($1.24 million), the Michigan Economic Development Corporation via former state Sen. Kim LaSata ($750,000), St. Joseph County ($500,000), Indiana Michigan Power ($25,000), Consumer’s Energy ($25,000), the Sturgis Area Community Foundation ($5,000), Three Rivers Area Community Foundation ($5,000) and the Three Rivers Area Chamber (approx. $3,200). The Road Commission funded $674,000 of the project from their own budget.
“Everybody came in; the burden wasn’t just left to the road commission. It was a very, very tall order,” Lindsey said. “We predicted this would be a $2 million project. COVID and a myriad of other things happened, and bridges and roads went through the roof.”
Fifth District County Commissioner Dennis Allen said the bridge is a “staple” in the county, and thanked those who helped make the project happen with contributions. He said this project was the culmination of several years’ worth of discussion, and accomplished what most residents in the county wanted – having the bridge remain open to traffic.
“When we initially started, I think seven years ago, to look at what we were going to do to this, it was from closing it down to make it a walk bridge or a bike bridge, to building another bridge alongside it, which was going to be millions,” Allen said. “I asked the road commission to go out and take a look at the community and say, what do you really want to see happen with the Covered Bridge? Eric Shafer did a good job putting on presentations all over, and they came back and said nobody wants to close the bridge. They want to keep it; they want to do whatever we need to do to keep it open. That’s how it all started, making sure we keep this viable and alive in our county.”
Allen also thanked the road commission taking on the project and for keeping the bridge open.
“We were glad to see that they agreed with the community that, hey, we’re going to keep this alive, and they made this happen,” Allen said. “This is the end result, and the bridge should be good, solid and sound structurally for the next 50 years. … It’s a great undertaking and a great result.”
Lindsey later thanked county commissioners for their assistance in helping to fund the project, particularly thanking Allen for his contributions to the issue of roads in the county. Allen’s personal Chevrolet truck was made the ceremonial first vehicle to travel the bridge after it was reopened following the ribbon cutting.
To coincide with the ribbon cutting, plaques with a picture of the Covered Bridge on them made out of pieces of old planks from the bridge were sold by the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce for $50. As of Saturday morning, Chamber President/CEO Christy Trammell said they have all been sold.
Trammell added the bridge is now “sturdy enough” to possibly hold another Chamber dinner fundraising event on the bridge, similar to what they did in 2016.
Road Commission Vice Chair Rodney Chupp said he was “almost shocked” the bridge got completed, but chalked it up to how funding for the project came together.
“It’s major that this thing got fixed. The road commission didn’t have the budget to just cut a check for $3 million, or $2 million for that matter,” Chupp said. “The funding, like this grant is dependent on this grant, and Sen. LaSata bringing in the three-quarters of a million was a big start. It was kind of like that was something we could anchor to. Then, people started believing we could get this done. I can’t underscore enough what it took to pull it off. John and Garrett share the credit for pulling it off, that is a big deal. It’s really amazing it happened, and I’m pleased.”
Overall, Myland said he’s proud of the work he and the crews did on the bridge.
“It’ll be absolutely great to have it done. I always look at when a bridge is completed, it’ll be the last time I’ll touch it in my career, but this being the Covered Bridge, we’ll have to replace the deck again,” Myland said. “But it’ll be nice to know that this is preserved for a very long time.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or email@example.com.