Best-selling author Dan McNichol’s latest project sounds like a college student’s dream road trip: He’s riding across the country in a 1949 Hudson Commodore Eight sedan named Mrs. Martin.
But his project is more about the roadways. He wants to highlight the importance of fixing the crumbling transportation infrastructure nationwide through the trip sponsored by CASE Construction Equipment.
McNichol stopped in DeKalb and visited what’s left of the Keslinger Road bridge Wednesday to highlight how failing bridges can hurt farmers. Farmers hauling crops or driving large equipment have had to detour up to 16 miles since the bridge collapsed in August 2008, according to research by the Illinois Soybean Association.
“This is a critical conversation,” McNichol said. “In the day, the farmer would have gone out there and rebuilt that bridge. But there are now all sorts of restrictions and regulations that don’t allow that farmer who wants to rebuild that bridge to fix it. Now we have to work in a more sophisticated, a more complex way to rebuild our infrastructure.”
The Keslinger Road bridge was among a dozen statewide that the Illinois Soybean Association identified as hindering soybean farmers and the state’s economy because their deteriorating condition required detours. The Illinois Soybean Association helped arrange McNichol’s visit Wednesday.
“We have a population that is growing, a population that has to eat and a good food source from right here in Illinois,” said Paul Rasmussen, a northern DeKalb County farmer and chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association’s transportation committee. “The challenge we are facing now is how to continue to get our products from the farm to our customers, whether they are across the ocean or within our very state.”
The Keslinger Road bridge is a special challenge because its collapse is embroiled in litigation, Rasmussen said. Other bridges across the state are deteriorating because county and township governments cannot afford to maintain them, but county officials argue the Keslinger bridge collapsed because of what drove across it.
The bridge, which crossed the Kishwaukee River between First Street and Anderland Road south of DeKalb, saw about 100 vehicles per day before construction traffic increased in June 2008. County officials filed a lawsuit in October 2011 against Enbridge Energy and Welded Construction claiming their workers damaged the bridge while working on an oil pipeline.
On Aug. 19, 2008, the bridge’s eight timber piles buckled, and the concrete deck split in two and plunged into the Kishwaukee River. Investigations by the University of Illinois’ Center for Transportation and the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office showed the bridge likely collapsed because of trucks that weighed more than the legal limit of about 36½ tons crossed the structure.
County officials have estimated the cost to replace the bridge at $933,000.
The lengthy detour means a lot to farmers during harvest time, Rasmussen said.
“Trucks, for soybean farmers, are the critical links,” Rasmussen said. “We have to take the quickest routes that can accommodate our machinery’s size and weights.”
But to McNichol, the bridge and others like it are missing links in a larger network of transportation and movement. At a presentation Wednesday at The Lincoln Inn in DeKalb, he mused about how the nation’s earlier farmers built their own roads along their property to avoid the isolation that came with being unable to travel into town.
Lincoln Highway symbolizes the American spirit behind transportation as the first transcontinental highway.
“It was more of a spiritual endeavor than it was one in concrete and steel and asphalt,” McNichol said. “It was more of a trace along the map and not so much about realities out there in the fields, but the idea that inspired Americans to build their infrastructure, to link their coasts from one end to the other.”
Learn more about author Dan McNichol’s trip with Mrs. Martin highlighting the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure at www.direstates.com.