Ice Jam Seals Fate Of Popular Historic Bridge

Wagon Wheel Bridge struck by ice during unusual spring thaw- damage beyond repair- demolition expected within a year

BOONE, IOWA- Mother nature has finally taken its toll on a popular historic bridge in Boone.

Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.
Wagon Wheel Bridge in Boone. Photo taken in September 2010 when the bridge was closed to all traffic. Recently it was rehabilitated and reopened to pedestrians only.

The Wagon Wheel Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River at 200th Street, a product of the Iowa Bridge Company, was struck by ice on 22 February causing severe damage to the two middle Pratt through truss spans. The ice struck the pier connecting the two trusses, causing it to shift at a 60° angle and the third truss (from west to east) to slip off the pier. A couple pictures by Chris Johnson shows the extent of the damage:

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More pictures of the damage can be viewed here.

Fearing the potential of collapse, the Boone County Engineer has barricaded the bridge within a parameter of up to a mile from the structure to ensure no one goes near it. At the same time, he announced that the bridge will be removed at the earliest possible convenience, with a target of it being pulled out within 12 months.

This latest disaster tops a list of disasters that has happened to the Wagon Wheel Bridge in over 10 years time. Sections of the eastern approach spans were misaligned during the Great Flood of 2008, which prompted its closure to all vehicular traffic.

While that section was restored and the bridge was reopened to pedestrians and cyclists in 2011, arsonists struck the bridge during August of 2015, setting fire to the eastern approach spans. They were sub-sequentially removed afterwards. The shifted piers had been there prior to the flooding, as floodwaters slightly shifted it in 2011. Still the bridge was reopened in time for the 2013 Historic Bridge Weekend in August.

Negligence on the part of the county and the citizens also contributed to its demise, as a referendum was voted down in 2010 to replace the bridge but keep the structure in place. In addition, a planned memorial on the bridge, honoring a teenager who was kidnapped and murdered near the bridge was met with protest as to how it should be commemorated with proposals to use the bridge as an observation deck being balked by those preferring the bridge to be restored and retain its function.

This disaster represents an example of how negligence combined with politics have led to it being condemned. With the bridge being an impediment to the raging waters of the Des Moines River, it was a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.

Inaction does produce its consequences in the end, and many opportunities to restore the bridge came and went without much interest in the structure and its role in Boone County’s history. If there is any chance of saving the bridge, it would most likely have to be like with the Horn’s Ferry Bridge, located downstream in Marion County: keep the outermost spans as observation decks with a plaque describing the bridge’s history. Rebuilding the bridge and elevating it to accommodate floodwaters, including new piers are possible, but at nearly 800 feet, the costs maybe more than the county’s budget, unless the county receives help from contributing factors outside. Then there is the option of relocating the spans for reuse elsewhere in the county. That has been done with the Bird Creek Bridge along US 66 in Oklahoma, but in this case, many actors would be needed here.

No matter what options are available, the consensus is clear: something will need to be done with the Wagon Wheel Bridge before it collapses into the river. It may not happen now, but without a short- and long-term solution, it will happen eventually, which will be lights out on a piece of Boone County’s history.

Whether or not Kate Shelley crossed this bridge in her lifetime, I don’t know if she would be happy to see her heritage go like that. In her shoes, definitely not. What about you?

Pictures of the Wagon Wheel Bridge before its latest disaster can be found here. This includes those taken during the Historic Bridge Weekend in 2013. Should you have any ideas to present to the county engineer, please contact Scott Kruse, using the contact details here.

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