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One Agency’s Bridge is Another Man’s Treasure

Sidewalk supervisors (private citizens who are captivated by the construction process and observe every step of the way), are a well-known tradition on many road and bridge projects both here in Washtenaw County, and across the country. Over the past century, as the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC) has built, maintained, and rebuilt our infrastructure, there have always been sidewalk supervisors.

Claude Marshall

Claude Marshall was a long-time Dixboro Road resident and observed the construction of the new bridge in 2004.

Claude Marshall of Ann Arbor Township was not your average sidewalk supervisor. As a retired mechanical engineer, he had a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of our work and he was very passionate about bridges. Claude’s favorite project, by far, was the 2004 construction of the Dixboro Road Bridge crossing the Huron River. This bridge also spanned the Norfolk Southern Railroad, the City of Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park Pathway, and the City of Ann Arbor’s Wastewater Treatment Plant access road.

Claude was a long-time Dixboro Road resident. He and his wife, Norma, purchased their home near the Huron River in 1962. When WCRC started the conversation with residents and local officials in the early 1990s about constructing a new bridge, Claude was instantly interested.

This new bridge would replace the original Dixboro Road Bridge built in 1921 and widened in 1969, located just downstream of the city dam. The new bridge would better connect Washtenaw Community College (WCC), St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and Eastern Michigan University to the rest of the county. The new bridge would be a massive undertaking, carrying 4-lanes of traffic and a sidewalk, with a total span of approximately 580-feet.

The $11.5 million project also required the construction of 5-lane roadway approaches on either side of the new bridge, where no road had previously existed. To top it all off, two intersections also had to be reconstructed – Geddes Road at Dixboro Road and Huron River Drive at Dixboro Road. The project remains the largest bridge project in WCRC’s 100-year history.

Ground was finally broken for construction in February 2004. Aaron Berkholz was assigned project manager duties, relying daily on the efforts and wise counsel of many WCRC staff. Work was closely coordinated with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), design and geotechnical consultants, and utility owners. While the MDOT contract was awarded to the Anlaan Corporation (Grand Haven, MI), there were a host of subcontractors needed. The extensive list of project stakeholders included Ann Arbor Township, the City of Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, WCC, the hospital, area residents, and motorists.

Berkholz recalls the project fondly, “I really appreciate the opportunity to work on such a landmark project. The lessons learned, and the relationships established were both professionally and personally rewarding.”

Throughout the next 10 months, Claude visited the worksite often, observing the contractors’ progress on this massive project and chatting with employees on site. The bridge was officially open to traffic in December 2004. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by Claude, WCRC staff and board members, and elected officials, was held on December 2, 2004.

Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, Claude had been doing more than observing the construction – he had been documenting it. Claude took more than 200 photos, saved newspaper clippings and WCRC materials. He put his memories into a scrapbook dedicated to the bridge project.

Claude’s scrapbook contained more than 200 photos of the build process.

Years later, after Claude had passed away, their daughter Anne rediscovered the scrapbook and contacted WCRC.

Anne and her husband, Steve of Saline, presented Claude’s cherished scrapbook to WCRC earlier this year. They reflected on the project with Berkholz, now WCRC’s senior project manager for design and construction and Roy Townsend, former WCRC county highway engineer and managing director, who retired from WCRC in 2018.

“He would have loved the discussion with you all,” reflected Anne, “When we left Steve said that it was like Dad was there, except if he had been there, we would have stayed for a few more hours!”

The scrapbook, along with other artifacts will be on display at the Washtenaw County Historical Society this fall during an exhibit celebrating WCRC’s 100th Anniversary. The exhibit officially opens on Sunday, November 10.

Read more about WCRC’s anniversary celebrations by visiting wcroads.org/100th-anniversary.