Imagine having to lie down in your boat just to get under a bridge while you are out enjoying the lake.
Boaters on Lake Mattoon don’t have to imagine it when they get to the bridge three miles north of Neoga.
The Lake Mattoon bridge has six feet of clearance during normal pool levels, according to Phil Anderson, a Lake Mattoon resident who enjoys being out on the lake. That clearance sometimes means those with pontoon boats have to remove windshields and take their canopies down just to get underneath the bridge.
Anderson recently measured the clearance from the surface of the water to the bottom beams of the bridge while on a pontoon boat. He found the clearance to be just 66 inches.
A reporter rode on a pontoon boat with Anderson and had to lay down on one of the seats in the boat just to make it under the bridge.
Cumberland County Engineer Ben Bland said the bridge dates back to the late 1950s. It’s due to be reconstructed for safety reasons. Anderson said he and other boaters want authorities to make raising the bridge another four feet part of the plan.
Authorities have placed weight limits on the bridge because it has reached the end of its service life. The total cost for the reconstruction of the bridge is $650,000. To raise it an additional four feet would cost $350,000.
Anderson said he was unaware the bridge was going to be replaced until right before the Fourth of July Celebration. He said the bridge has been dangerous since larger boats, like pontoon boats, have come out.
The lake spreads into three counties: Cumberland, Shelby and Coles. Anderson said he circulated a petition for a week advocating for raising the bridge for added clearance and collected 150 signatures.
“We’re not expecting it to solely come from Cumberland County residents’ pockets,” he said.
Bland said he is looking for additional funding sources to raise the bridge. He has contacted State Sen. Dale Righter.
Cumberland County Board Chairman Roy Clapp declined to comment on whether he supports efforts to raise the bridge.