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Posted on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 6:02 a.m.

East Stadium Bridges: Risk to public from falling "football sized"concrete

By Edward Vielmetti

Drivers and pedestrians on South State Street below the decaying East Stadium bridges could be in danger.

An engineering firm warned the city of Ann Arbor last month that it's possible - though not likely - that "football sized" concrete could fall from the bridge, injuring anyone below.

The city is currently considering a possible $22.1 million reconstruction over three years of two of the bridges spans on East Stadium Boulevard. 


The underside of the Stadium bridge where it crosses over State Street has been deemed a potential danger.

Lon Horwedel |

In a letter obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Jon Drummond of Northwest Consultants Inc., a civil, structural and environmental engineering firm based in Toledo, expressed concerns over safety measures used to keep traffic off the worst parts of the bridge. He also recommended actions to further protect drivers along South State Street below the bridge. 

The firm inspected the bridges on Sept. 15.

In the section of the letter marked "Additional Safety Measures," Drummond writes:

"First, the City's maintenance crews are doing an excellent job of removing loose chunks of concrete from the beams, but there are limits to how often they can perform this work. Accessing the bridge to remove the loose concrete is a complicated process involving heavy equipment and disruption to State Street traffic. Since they cannot be on site continually, there is still a possibility (albeit a much smaller possibility) that a large piece of concrete from a beam could fall and injure someone."

Drummond and city engineer Michael Nearing characterized the size of the concrete pieces that might fall as "football sized." 

"No one can predict with certainty what size would fall off," Nearing told

Drummond's recommendations include alternatives such as removing the five southernmost beams of the bridge; removing only the 5th beam, "which is by far in the worst condition and represents the biggest concern to public safety;" and installing temporary concrete barriers to keep traffic from driving over the worst parts of the bridge when traffic is backed up - including during football games.

What we don't know yet

No discussion of the condition of the bridges was on the Ann Arbor City Council's work session agenda from Monday.

No agenda is available yet for next Monday's City Council meeting, but discussions with city staff indicate the project is expected to be on the agenda.

What it cost us to find this information

The FOIA request was fulfilled for a cost of $1.75.


Here's a recent partial timeline of the East Stadium bridges project from the FOIA request:

  • Sept. 13:  FOIA letter sent by requesting "copies of the most recent East Stadium bridge inspection forms or reports submitted to MDOT, including the Bridge Safety Inspection Report (form P2502) and the Structure Inventory and Appraisal report (form 1717A); and the most recent report or correspondence from Northwest Consulants Inc. on the condition of the East Stadium bridges".
  • Sept. 14: FOIA received; assigned tracking code 09-194 Vielmetti.
  • Sept. 15: Inspection of the bridge performed by Northwest Consultants; it had been previously scheduled, after delays associated with other construction on South State Street, in August.
  • Sept. 17: Letter written by John Drummond, Northwest Consultants.
  • Sept. 21: FOIA extension requested by the city via the Project Management office.
  • Sept. 22: Drummond letter stamped "received" by City of Ann Arbor Project Management.
  • Oct. 2: FOIA request granted.

Full text of the Drummond letter of Sept. 17, 2009

Doc 091013

Edward Vielmetti is lead blogger for He avoids driving under the South State Street bridge at Stadium Boulevard. Contact him at



Sun, Oct 18, 2009 : 8:06 p.m.

if they can rebuild a large amount of freeway in california after an earthquake in less than a year I don't understand why this job is projected to take 2-3 years to complete. Can a construction crew be hired that doesn't need to scratch the left one and the right one at the same time.

Marvin Face

Sat, Oct 17, 2009 : 10:24 p.m.

@townie "Council members will be the first to tell you that they get tired of hearing from the same 25 people (like me) on every issue.". I bet they'll still hear from the same 25 people. I'm guessing you might be one of them.


Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 10:07 p.m.

@rusty. You have to be kidding "Everyone who is concerned about this, please take 5 minutes to CALL the mayor and council members."

Larry Kestenbaum

Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 7:32 p.m.

Those conceptual plans, to my surprise, show East Stadium going UNDER both the railroad and State Street. That's a clever idea, but it would be a radical reworking of the entire area, and removal of the entire huge berm under Stadium. I doubt it could be finished between football seasons. It would be an immense disruption to the city for several years of construction. And given the state's budget issues, the huge cost would probably have to be financed entirely with local tax money. As to the no-bridge option, I have to say that the concept of a five-lane-vs.-five-lane intersection at State/Stadium is pretty unappealing, completely apart from the speculation about the cost of future accidents. Replacement of just the bridge span of Stadium over State Street would seem like the quickest, cheapest, and minimally invasive solution. I'm guessing it would cost less than $2 million. It would leave everything else in place. It would not solve the State Street clearance issue, but is that such a big problem that it's worth another $20 million to solve? The bridge over the AARR, which is not falling down, could be separately replaced later, perhaps much later. If the clearance over the railroad is such a pressing issue, the railroad can pay for a new bridge there.


Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 11:11 a.m.

How much for a tunnel under the tracks? Then you can have an intersection as State and Stadium.


Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 10:53 a.m.

The WATS data foobar417 provided a link to is quite old. In fact, the State Street numbers are from 1995. That was 14 years ago. Having worked in this area for 12 years, I can tell you without a doubt that the traffic on State and Main has increased dramatically, yet I'm not aware of any train incidents. Admittedly anecdotal, but I did not see the same dramatic change on Stadium that I saw on the N/S routes. Does anyone have data on how many car/train or pedestrian/train incidents have occurred at the at-grade AARR crossings? I'm guessing it's pretty close to zero, regardless of the intensity of vehicular traffic, but I certainly could have missed something when I was out of town. there are very few trains per day, they are generally quite short, and they move very slowly through town. The City has not counted cars or done any onsite study of the feasibility of no bridges at this location. In fact, they will tell you they CAN'T count cars because their counters burned up in a fire and haven't been replaced. That's why they rely on statistical models and old data, and plug them into cost/benefit analysis that have no real-world relevance. Thanks, Rusty, for posting the Council contact info. More citizens need to speak up. Council members will be the first to tell you that they get tired of hearing from the same 25 people (like me) on every issue.


Fri, Oct 16, 2009 : 4:18 a.m.

Actually, Stadium over AARR is ~25% busier than South State/Stimson or Main/Madison intersections, as far I can tell. According to the WATS traffic count database, found here: Total 2-way traffic over 24 hours: Stadium over AARR: 25,830 Main north of Hill: 17,736 S. State north of Stimson: 19,857 S. State south of Stimson: 19,736


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:33 p.m.

If you read the letter from the city to UM there is an emphasis on the cost of accidents that might happen. I did not see any accounting for the accidents that DO happen (and may be eliminated with the no bridge option) because of the convoluted way of getting from E. Stadium to either N or S State or vice versa. I live in the area and have seen numerous accidents that seemingly happen from turning onto W. Stadium at the Kroger store. How about the cost of the time lost by motorists that have to navigate three left turns to get from soutbound State to west bound E. Stadium. None of that seems to have been included in the so called statistical calculations. As to the railroad accidents. I find it interesting that projections are made for 75 years. Who knows if there will even be trains running on that track. I'd say it was at least as likely as not. Not saying anything here except the discussion does seem one sided and not very complete.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:31 p.m.

I meant to say the AARR crosses South Main AT GRADE. It also crosses South State AT GRADE. Both are extremely busy streets, with South State being made worse by the Stimson interchange (and all those folks trying to get from State to Stimson and vice-versa. If at-grade crossings are too big of a risk for future commuter trains, then you may as well give up on the north-south commuter train idea. How could we possibly afford to build over/underpasses for the at least 10 at-grade crossing that I can think of?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:21 p.m.

The AARR crosses South Main, which I would be willing to bet has more traffic than this part of Stadium. I read the engineer's letter month's ago and I stand by my comments above. Societal costs per crash? Give me a break. How about our traffic engineers doing some REAL engineering? Go out there and observe, count cars, take measurements and design a safe interchange. Or do we need to hire more private consultants from Denver?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 6:37 p.m.

While the AARR does cross main other streets in town at grade, it doesn't cross any of them "at grade" that are anywhere as busy as Stadium. For example, there are bridges over the tracks at Eisenhower, Stadium, Washington, Huron, and North Main.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 6:35 p.m.

While I'm no defender of the city's management of the bridge, many of the posts here are throwing out random complaints and speculations that have been addressed in this and other forums. You can find an overview and a link to the FAQ here: Specifically: Question 1 answers why you can't replace just one bridge. Question 6 answers why you can't use the money from the new court building. And the proposed Detroit / Chicago high speed rail proposal has nothing to do with the north/south tracks in Ann Arbor. It might travel over the east/west tracks along the river, should it happen. The north/south tracks might be used for WALLY (the proposed Howell / Ann Arbor route), but currently that is envisioned to stop up by Plymouth Road. The farthest south I've ever read being proposed was the football stadium itself. Finally, the reason why the no bridge option won't work is discussed here:


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 3:42 p.m.

The permanent bridge removal option deserves far more consideration than it has been given. This alternative has not been studied seriously. The City engineer merely recited a bunch of statistical cost/benefit hogwash that he downloaded from a Federal website. Probably never left his cubicle to go look at the intersections in question. The City has already created a ridiculous situation whereby a driver going south on State, in order to make a right onto Stadium, has to go left on Stimson and then left on Industrial, then left on Stadium--through three traffic lights! The one-way streets to the north of Stadium are odd--especially at the five-way intersection east of the bridge. The bridge lanes being closed has made a very awkward area even worse than before. Those commenting on how huge the detours would be to get around this mess are right on target, but even with new bridges, don't we still have the same basic problem? We have two main arteries in our city that are not functioning to their full potential because they are not connected properly. The AA railroad serves only a few short trains per day and manages to cross the many other at-grade crossings through town with no difficulty and little inconvenience to motorists. I've heard of accidents on the tracks that Amtrak uses (which is almost completely served by underpasses and overpasses through town) but I don't recall hearing of anything on the Ann Arbor RR (except maybe a trespassing ticket). And I'm tired of officials complaining that the AA RR won't communicate with them. Hop in a car, drive up to Howell and sit down in the guy's office. Can't we do something intelligent for a change? I don't care if it's Federal money used to replace the bridges. It's ALL our money.. Let's do something logical and sustainable.

Karen Sidney

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 3:40 p.m.

If the funding to remove the beam is coming from the FY 2009 budget, it's some interesting accounting considering that FY2009 ended last June 30. Ann Arbor taxpayers pay a streets millage to keep up our roads and bridges. Last year (FY2009) the millage raised just over $9.5 million dollars. According to city financial reports for FY 2009 (which I got with FOIA), at the end of FY2009, there was $27 million of unspent millage funds. I've yet to hear an explanation of what projects are getting funding from the streets millage that are more important than solving the failing bridge problem.

Thick Candy Shell

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 3:25 p.m. for those that question the no bridge option

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:43 p.m.

Ed, thanks for the reporting and the meticulous documentation. I guess that I'll add the Stimpson bypass to my regular routing, along with my Packard bypass for Stadium. Of course the chances that I will actually be on or under the bridge at a moment that it fails are miniscule, but tell that to the folks in Minneapolis.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:26 p.m.

I agree.. tear them down and put up a traffic light. The occasional train that might stop stadium traffic I believe would be less of a traffic congestion then when they have to completely close down the brides. Put it on ballet and have the people in the city vote for it... $21M to fix/repair or $400K to demo and put up a stop light (My numbers might be wrong but you get my point).


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:19 p.m.

With respect to an at grade crossing, there was an individual who used to post on here before being ran off by the moderators who pointed out that it can not be done due to the volume of traffic that goes over the tracks. It is a federal law that requires the bridge. It would be kind of cool if the train could go over the road, I wonder if that is a cheaper alternative. that would allow the intersection to be at road level. Maybe someone who works for this site can track down the federal legislation/regulations.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:13 p.m.

If I am not mistaken "at grade" worked in this location before. I am sure it has been studied to death but by people that only want a new bridge. As in just about anything an argument can be made either way. Just a matter of the clouded vision being used. Usually when you commission a study it comes out the way those that commissioned it want it.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:10 p.m.

I too wonder if we wouldn't be just as well off eliminating those two bridges and have a conventional intersection between Stadium and State, and a grade level crossing for the railroad on Stadium. I think generally there's just one train per day traveling the Ann Arbor Railroad's track, and it seems most of the time it's coming through very early in the morning when there's little traffic. A bridge seems like an unnecessary luxury now.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 1:04 p.m.

I've lived within 3/4 of a mile of that bridge and RR for over 20 years. Back in the 70's I lived clsoe enough to hear it when some truck went crashing into the bridge because it had such a low clearance. I always wondered why there had to be a bridge there in the first place. Maybe years ago when there wa significant train traffic it made sense. I'd like to see the rationale for not removing the bridges entirely. I drive s. State many times each week and can count on one hand the times I have had to wait on a train. Can anyone provide links to docs that show that the removal option is not viable? Curious to see what those justifications might be. May be it's time to poll the citizens.

Larry Kestenbaum

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:58 p.m.

Re: "an at-grade intersection... and many other alternatives have been studied to death and will not work." What does "will not work" mean in this context? What about simply replacing the span over State Street? As I understand it, the bridge over the tracks is in considerably better shape. The $22 million would be for a project to completely redo the bridges, widen all the lanes, increase the load limits to handle maximum size heavy trucks, sculpture the berms differently, etc., etc., etc. Do we really need all that?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:50 p.m.

Maybe the a2 City government could cancel the $1 million statue and use the money to replace the bridge.. Then, take a giant hunk of bridge concrete and place it in the statue's proposed location at new City Hall.. Next, inscribe a plaque, placed on said bridge rubble, with the following:. "This rubble is placed to remind government of what falls on citizens' heads while government pursues folly."

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:49 p.m.

Fortunately for drivers, Michigan doesn't have a quarterback capable of accurately throwing a football-sized anything. This is a huge problem, though. The traffic volume on both these roads is such that closing one for any length of time would surely mean a nightmare. Ultimately, I think the best solution is removing the bridge. At least that would open up an alternate to Main for getting out to the business centers south of town. That wasn't all that important back in the old days when people actually shopped downtown.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:48 p.m.

Alan, I would bet money that any new bridge will be a crumbled mess by the time we see high speed rail. In Chicago and surrounding suburbs as well as many other cities they seem to be able to deal with rail systems and their interconnection to surface roads very efficiently.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:05 p.m.

Is it possible to repair the bridge? I read somewhere that there was a quote for around $400k to repair the bridge. The bridge is old and would need to be worked on eventually moreso, but if we could get the repair done almost immediately for significantly less money that'd be great. I can't find the article saying that it was around 400k to replace it at the moment, but I'm sure we can find that sort of money. 22 million, maybe not.

Marvin Face

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 11:57 a.m.

I'm going to agree with citizenx on this one and I'll add that I'm not a fan of FOIA under any circumstance. I think it is a tool for checkbook-padding lawyers, nosy busy-bodies, and (as I have stated elsewhere previously) lazy reporters. I will wait to see what Ed says about whether he asked someone at the city about the document and was refused but my guess is that rather than going over and having a chat with Mike Nearing, he just sat at his desk and filed a FOIA. Easier that way.. Alan Goldmsith, I'm disappointed that you have not dragged Marcia Higgins into this yet as usual.. A2roots and others calling for an at-grade intersection, this and many other alternatives have been studied to death and will not work.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 11:43 a.m.

Why build a new bridge when you can tear down the existing, rework a few intersections and have it done for significantly less money and in less time. The few number of trains per day to deal with may pose a headache, but at what point do you take the headache when millions are involved. Anyone ever look at our newest bridges(Broadway, Huron Pkwy)? Sure seems like they were built like crap. We need to explore alternatives. Bridge or no bridge. I say no bridge. Sure will save big money and we won't have to deal with a lousy design and poor construction.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 11:13 a.m.

If you have to tear down half the bridge, why not tear it all down? Of course, we want to build the $21M edifice to our greatness. Stick in the detour now, wait till football season is over, then take down both bridges. If the $21M comes through we are ahead of the game. If it doesn't pave Stadium and install a traffic light for State. Why is simpler not better in this case? I would love to turn onto State from Stadium and vice versa.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 10:54 a.m.

Thanks for the answer, Ed. My point is that your language lends itself to incorrect interpretations such as Alan's: 'it took a FOIA request.' I would ask that you consider whether your lack of specificity contributes to an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. If so, it seems to hurt our community's chances of fostering productive, respectful civic dialogue and finding effective solutions to our common problems.

Jody Durkacs

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 10:52 a.m.

So they knew about this a month ago, but didn't act on it until a FOIA request generated media coverage? Way to go, city government! Are you taking your cues from Washington now? They are reactive with prompt damage control now that this situation is public knowledge and only proactive on their own pet projects. Maybe Hiefjte's bike riding doesn't take him under the bridge.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 10:33 a.m.

Just like they should have fixed the Argo Dam toe drains years ago with money they budgeted, the City has obviously been dragging their feet on this necessary project for whatever reason. For the bridges to get to this point of disrepair is disgraceful mismanagement by the City. Granted, replacing the bridges is a very expensive project that will require some degree of outside funding. But, it should have been financed and underway by now. Instead, it's closed down to one lane each way for the foreseeable future and is a hazard to motorists and pedestrians below. Great job City of Ann Arbor!

David Cahill

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 9:29 a.m.

Ed, this is an important article. Unfortunately, I can read the consultant's letter (with some difficulty), but I can't print it. Could you create a standard.doc or.pdf file and link it to the article?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 9:09 a.m.

In this town, anything football-related is A-OK, I guess. Even football-sized chucks of concrete.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:58 a.m.

We all know what's coming, either: (A) A huge new bridge with federal funds that will take 2-3 years to build, or (B) A traffic circle or two The whole Stadium-to-Stimson-to-State area has always been kind of a mess.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:57 a.m.

On September 22 the city received the letter from Northwest Consultants stating that large pieces of concrete could fall from the bridge? Large enough to kill someone if fell on them?. So WHY is traffic still allowed to pass under this bridge three weeks later?. There are remedial steps that can be taken to prevent loose concrete from falling all the way to the street below. And yet, based on the photo above, nothing has been done.. This is really an outrage!!


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:56 a.m.

Ed - can you confirm Alan Goldsmith's point that 'it took a FOIA request to get this released'? Did you ask the City directly for this report and have your request denied before turning to the FOIA process?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:42 a.m.

Several points of curiosity:. How long has Stadium bridge been in disrepair to the extent of needing replacement?. Could Stadium bridge have been maintained, alleviating need of replacement?. If so, when should the maintenance have started, and why was it not performed?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:35 a.m.

State St under the bridge needs to be closed.Why wait for someone to get seriously injured. A detour would be Stimpson to N. bound S.Industrial. Changing the one way street as S.Industrial crosses Stadium to a N.bound direction.Continue to Granger back to S.State. Problem solved.(just ban truck traffic when the neighbors on said streets start complaining,and they will) But of course that is to simple a solution.

Kevin S. Devine

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:23 a.m.

Get on it, City Council and Mayor Hieftje! Show us you can get things done on critical infrastructure with the same alacrity you display on the fluffy feel-good projects.

Basic Bob

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:20 a.m.

IMO, they should close State St. to all traffic until the bridges are torn out. The demolition can begin on November 22, and by spring they will be ready to start foundation work for the new bridges. Nothing like the last minute to increase efficiency. Yes, it will disrupt traffic, but we are running out of alternatives.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:17 a.m.

It's clear what that city is doing. As with the Argo Dam too. The city is waiting for either federal stimulus money or the university to pay for these projects. Let's roll ahead with our "green" projects but don't maintain the city that supports them.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:05 a.m.

Just fix the damn bridges. If the city weren't so obsessed with parking spaces we could fix our real problems like the stadium bridges.

Joey Houghton

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:03 a.m.

The city needs to fix this, even if it means a lengthy detour. If someone gets hit by falling concrete they could be seriously injured or killed, it doesn't really matter how big the piece of concrete is. If I'm are driving a car, a block of concrete hitting the hood of my car would not make my day.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:55 a.m.

Yikes... what's a puprose?. Oh, it was supposed to read "purpose"...


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:51 a.m.

Let's see.... Money for parkland... no problem.... Money to purchase development rights outside City boundaries... no problem.... Municipal money for a $50 million subterranean parking garage that subsidizes and captures unidentified private development... no problem.... Money to fight private development proposals for years, regardless of whether meeting existing codes... no problem.... Money to litigate lawsuits from defeated development proposals, whether meeting code or not, no problem.... Money to exercise a purchase option, preventing AATA from developing the YMCA site... no problem.... Money to tear down the YMCA, leaving it vacant... no problem.... Money to subsidize housing for displaced YMCA former residents in perpetuity... no problem.... Money to devise, debate, and enact new unenforceable ordinances... such as retailers plastic bag ban... no problem.... Money to get experienced and valued City employees to retire to slash payroll... no problem.... Money to fight FOI requests... no problem.... Money to replace a bridge located on a major City thoroughfare, with hunks of concrete falling to the street and sidewalk below.... Uh, there is no money... no problem.... The items listed above are just some that take precedence and priority over provision of basic City services and infrastructure maintenance. I am beginning to wonder about the true puprose and practice of Ann Arbor City government.. For a community such as Ann Arbor, with supposed great intelligence and wisdom, all of this seems somewhat surprising. But it fits a proposed new motto for acceptance of everything municipal governmental: In Ann Arbor, thats how we roll... no problem...


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:44 a.m.

The city is "considering" a reconstruction plan? What is there to consider? Get 'er done!


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:32 a.m.

Didnt we approve a bond issue a couple years ago to address these issues? And another thing, if you're doing a big expansion of city hall at the same time things like this are going on, the optics of that are absolutely horrible. The city is looking a little tone deaf on this.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:25 a.m.

Wow, that'd be one hell of a detour...for 3 years? Imagine, your only options are going to Hoover or Eisenhower. Although the bridge definitely needs replacing I don't look forward to it.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:14 a.m.

Why worry about bridge repair when you could build a new recycling facility so residents don't have to separate plastics? And hey, we need a greenway!