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MailTribune.com
  • McKee Bridge repair will cost more than expected

  • APPLEGATE — Rising construction costs have the McKee Bridge Historical Society and Jackson County scrambling for more money to restore the covered structure, although the two groups have already amassed $550,000 for the project.
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  • APPLEGATE — Rising construction costs have the McKee Bridge Historical Society and Jackson County scrambling for more money to restore the covered structure, although the two groups have already amassed $550,000 for the project.
    Built in 1917, the bridge was placed off limits to pedestrians in 2011 after inspection showed significant decay to supporting timbers. The bridge is seven miles south of Ruch, off Upper Applegate Road.
    An earlier estimate placed restoration at $547,250, but ODOT, which will administer the project because most of the money is from federal sources, requires another $60,000 to cover an increase in costs and to provide a contingency, said Robert Van Heuit, society president.
    "Construction costs are starting to head back up," said County Engineer Mike Kuntz. "That's principally what it is connected to."
    Jackson County owns the bridge but has turned over maintenance to the society. Both organizations have been successful in raising money and gaining grants for the project.
    The county was awarded a $491,000 federal Department of Transportation Covered Bridge Preservation Grant in 2012. The society landed a $20,000 grant from the state Historic Preservation Office and $10,000 from ESCO Foundation to go with $26,000 it raised locally for a match to the federal grant.
    "We were pretty unhappy when the costs came out being over our budget," said Van Heuit. "This has been a long struggle. We have been working on this for more than a couple years. A lot of people in the Applegate have been very generous."
    Hopes are now pinned on a $60,000 state Transportation Enhancement Grant through ODOT. Kuntz expects to learn shortly whether a standing committee has recommended forwarding the grant application to the state's Transportation Commission, which will make awards in mid-May. The society has agreed to raise $6,000 needed for a grant match.
    "We've got our fingers crossed and are holding our breath," said Van Heuit.
    Railroad depots, parts of the historic Columbia River Gorge Highway, bicycle paths and pedestrian projects have been funded with enhancement grants in the past, said Kuntz.
    In the worst case, the county may need to give back the federal funds.
    "If this (grant) doesn't come through, and we aren't successful in finding funds, we are truly looking at having to give it back," said Kuntz. "It's a place we want to avoid going."
    Construction needs to be done by the end of July 2015. If the grant application is successful, ODOT would seek bids this summer for the work, which is projected to take four months.
    Repairs to the bridge's west approach, not covered by the grant, will go ahead in the next couple months, Kuntz said. The county will supply labor, and the society will provide $3,200 in materials.
    An estimated 6,000 people visit the bridge annually, said Van Heuit. The bridge was closed to auto traffic in 1955.
    "They can go out and enjoy the experience of it," said Kuntz. "You are not interrupted by vehicles. It's a lot like going into a historic house, where you get a sense of the past."
    The society's website, www.mckeehistoricalcoveredbridge.org, has information about how to make tax-deductible contributions.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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