Century-old trail bridge to be replaced

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published August 29, 2017

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OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — A replacement for a 100-year-old wooden railroad bridge on the Paint Creek Trail is currently in the design stage.

Township officials are aiming for construction of the new pedestrian bridge, labeled No. 33.7 and located over the Paint Creek, between Dutton and Silverbell roads, in the summer of 2018.

“Basically, the creek has eroded the pylons,” Oakland Township Trustee Robin Buxar said. “The bridge could become nonfunctional and unstable.”

When replaced, the 61-foot-long Paint Creek Trail pedestrian bridge will improve accessibility for trail users, as well as emergency and maintenance vehicles. Plans include increasing the bridge width from 9 feet to 14 feet and ensuring support of a 10-ton emergency vehicle, township officials said.

“There is a lot to study,” Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Director Mindy Milos-Dale said. “The creek has changed course in the 100 years the bridge has been there. We have to take into account how the creek may move in the future, with ecological and technical studies. We want a good long-term solution.”

The total project cost to replace the bridge is estimated at $756,200. Milos-Dale said two grants will fund 80 percent of the project — $300,000 each from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Transportation Alternatives Program — with the remaining cost supplied by Oakland Township’s parks and recreation millage funds.

The bridge replacement is a joint project involving Oakland Township and the Paint Creek Trailways Commission. The Trailways Commission owns the Paint Creek Trail property, and the township manages its section of the trail. 

By a unanimous vote Aug. 18, the township Board of Trustees approved the bridge project.

“This is not a cosmetic application,” Trustee Frank Ferriolo said. “The bridge is going to fail. We don’t know when.”  

Mannik and Smith Group will present design alternatives to the township and the commission during public meetings at dates to be determined, Milos-Dale said.

The majority of bridges on the Paint Creek Trail, originally a Detroit-Bay City Railroad Co. route built in the late 1800s, are made of concrete, Milos-Dale said. “This one is made of wood,” she said about bridge No. 33.7. “It has steel I-beams, and the rest is wood.”

The Paint Creek Trail was the first nonmotorized rail-to-trail in Michigan. The Detroit-Bay City Railroad Co. later became known as the Michigan Central Railroad Co., and later still the Penn Central Railroad, until the company abandoned the line in the 1970s and filed for bankruptcy.

The bridge traverses the Paint Creek, southeast Michigan’s premier cold-water trout stream, according to township officials. In addition to providing fishing opportunities, the stretch of the Paint Creek near the bridge provides opportunities to view wildlife including minks, muskrats, beavers and birds.

The trail is part of a regional rail-trail included in the Iron Belle Trail, planned as a statewide hiking and bicycling trail stretching from Belle Isle Park in Detroit to Ironwood in the western Upper Peninsula.

Construction of the new bridge may close the trail next summer, Milos-Dale said. “There are a lot of different bridge types,” she said. “Some are heavier and bigger. We may have to shut down the (trail) section between Silverbell and Dutton.”

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