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Covered Bridge restorations begin Monday

The Langley Covered Bridge outside of Centreville will be undergoing extensive restorations beginning Monday, Sept. 11. Work, mainly on the bridge’s superstructure, will be going on until near the end of the year. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

CENTREVILLE — After years of planning and budgeting, an icon of St. Joseph County will be closed for repairs beginning next week.

The Langley Covered Bridge will be undergoing a major $3.2 million restoration project starting on Monday, Sept. 11, a project that is expected to continue through the rest of the calendar year.

St. Joseph County Road Commission Manager John Lindsey said the work to be done on the 282-foot bridge is the most extensive there’s been since a separate project in 2009, where the agency got a historic preservation grant to repair the wood and other parts of the historic part of the bridge.

“The problem is that the bridge sits on the substructure that is not historic, because that bridge was raised and moved and different things through its history. So, none of that historic preservation money could be used on the substructure, so that’s where the problem remained,” Lindsey said.

The project will be mainly replacing 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 will drive on. In addition, those four main beams will be sandblasted and repainted.

The steel substructure, Road Commission Engineer Garrett Myland, is of particular note for replacement.

“The steel is 70 years old. We had a little bit of discussion internally about the steel underneath, do we sandblast it all and repaint it? Do we replace the steel?” Myland said. “With the steel already at 70 years – normally steel lasts 100 years – we figured we’re going so deep into this project, we might as well replace it all.”

Work on the bridge is being conducted at the same time as a drawdown of the St. Joseph River related to a project at the nearby Sturgis Dam. While the dam project has not been approved to happen as of yet, the lowering of the water level has been approved. The expected dam work is unrelated to the Covered Bridge project, but lowering the water will help barges get underneath the bridge to place steel as part of the project.

“The dam is going to be doing work on their own, so they were going to be lowering the water anyway, but it just happened that our project was going to coincide with the dam’s project being done,” Lindsey said. “Right now, to get a barge underneath the bridge to be able to lift the steel up is impossible without the water being lowered. With the water being lowered, it benefits us, but the plan was originally to have the dam work being done and we’re trying to coordinate our work with theirs.”

The river’s water level, according to a letter being sent to residents by the City of Sturgis, will be lowered by three feet over the course of several days beginning on Sept. 11, and will be lowered by six inches per day. Those with boats or other watercraft docked on the river are advised to move or secure them as the drawdown is expected to “significantly lower” the water level upstream of the dam. The water levels will remain in place until April 30, 2024, and is expected to lower water levels upstream as far as Mendon and raise water levels downstream as far as Three Rivers.

Financially, the project is almost fully-funded, and are $105,637 short of funding it completely. Currently, the road commission has $1.24 million for the project from the state’s Local Bridge Fund, $750,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation thanks to former State Sen. Kim LaSata, $500,000 from St. Joseph County, and $674,000 from the road commission’s budget themselves.

A “Discover The Treasures” fundraising event by the Three Rivers Area Chamber of Commerce to raise funds for the project is expected to take place on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Covered Bridge Farm County Park, with tickets still available. The road commission is also still applying for grants to attempt to cover the remaining $105,637.

Lindsey said the road commission covering the remaining $100,000 would be an additional burden on their current budget.

“It may seem like a small amount, but we’ve already taxed our budget for $674,000 this year from our general fund. To put another $105,000 would put us $800,000 into one bridge project, and that’s a lot. That’s near to 25 percent,” Lindsey said. “We try to get into bridges at the 10 percent number, so 25 is tough for us to swallow.”

However, despite the large amount of money being put into the bridge, the benefit for not just drivers but the community at large is significant.

“The biggest benefit is we are taking care of all of the stuff that you don’t see. The steel underneath, the abutments, all the work that is being done underneath that’s not associated with the timber at all is essentially going to last 80-100 years. So, we’re preparing the bridge for a long life,” Myland said.

“The big benefit is that we’re keeping the Covered Bridge alive, period. If we didn’t do this, it was going to have to close at some point,” Lindsey said.

Work on the bridge is expected to last until around Christmas, and will be done by Grand Haven-based Anlaan Corporation. The recommended detour route for drivers will be via Angevine Road, Leland Road and Angling Road, all of which were resurfaced last year in anticipation of the project.

Overall, Lindsey said he’s excited to get the project started.

“I’ll be anxious for it to finish since it’s been a point of contention for all the time I’ve been around this road commission,” Lindsey said. “I’ve been here for 13 years, it’s Covered Bridge, Covered Bridge, Covered Bridge, what are we going to do. It’ll be good to bring some closure to it and say, it’s finally done.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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