Historic Mill Creek Bridge to get $2.1 million in TLC

PROSPECT — Residents of the Upper Rogue will get their first look at Jackson County's plan to rehabilitate the 88-year-old Mill Creek Bridge at an open house scheduled for Wednesday.

County officials will explain the $2.1 million project and present a construction schedule that includes road closures and detours. Work will begin next May and is expected to take six months.

Funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration's Local Bridge Program and will cover 90 percent of the project's cost. The remaining 10 percent will come from Jackson County's road fund. "We're taking off a substantial part of the deck and widening the bridge from 20 to 25 feet," said Jackson County engineer Mike Kuntz.

He said bridge railings and the urn-shaped concrete balusters will be replaced in the same style used by the Oregon Department of Transportation during last year's renovation of the Rock Point Bridge near Gold Hill.

"If you've ever been up close to the rails, you've seen how they are literally crumbling away," Kuntz said. "I'd be concerned if something big enough and fast enough ever hit that rail."

As bad as the railings are, Kuntz said that structurally the bridge is in great shape.

"I'm not concerned about the carrying capacity of this bridge like ODOT was at Rock Point," he said. "It's an amazing structure and looks better than many of the 10-year-old bridges I've seen."

Because the bridge is so narrow, it will be closed while repairs are made.

"With a lot of bridges, we stage our construction and open a half of the bridge at a time," Kuntz said, "but this one is so narrow that we'd probably be left with only seven feet or less."

Kuntz said widening the bridge would also be safer for pedestrians.

"In the summer months there are pedestrians out there pretty regularly," he said. "They're looking for a pretty nice view of the gorge, and it gets pretty tight in only 20 feet."

Fred Wickman and his wife, owners of the Prospect Hotel, are looking forward to the rehabilitation.

"I think this is going to be a positive step for our business and for the whole town," Wickman said. "It's going to generate a lot of publicity and we're going to have a lot people up here who've never been to Prospect before."

The Mill Creek Bridge, often called the Prospect Bridge, crosses the Rogue River on Mill Creek Drive, just south of Prospect. Conde McCullough, Oregon's highly regarded head engineer of bridges for the Oregon Highway Commission, predecessor to ODOT, oversaw its design and construction in 1923. In 1969, with the completion of Highway 62, the state transferred control of the bridge to Jackson County.

"The project will have quite an impact on the people in the Upper Rogue for quite a while," Kuntz said, "but I think once we're done, the end product is really going to be great."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

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