City Council pursuing Replacement Options in the Face of Opposition after a Reversal Voting
WAVERLY, IOWA- This story opens up with a comment mentioned by one of the residents living near the Green Bridge in Waverly: “River Cities work when bridges work.” This was during the time when the Waverly City Council voted to overturn a decision to repair the three-span truss bridge. Little do people realize that even modern bridges have the potential of failing during floods, and most modern bridges lack the aesthetic character as the crossing we are talking about here.
Spanning the Cedar River at 3rd Street SE, this century year old structure was built by the Illinois Steel Company, using standardized bridge designs approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation a couple years earlier. In this case, the structure features three spans of Pratt through trusses with A-frame portal bracings, V-laced overhead strut lacings with 45° heel supports and riveted connections. The total length of the bridge is 363 feet; each span is 121 feet. The width is 17 feet and the vertical clearance is 12 feet. It is unknown when the bridge was painted green, nor do we know of its predecessor, but for 100 years, this bridge provided a link between the Park districts to the south and the rest of Waverly, including the city center. Prior to its closing in 2015, the bridge was restricted to one lane of traffic, controlled by a traffic light, and the decking was steel gridded.
According to information by the local newspapers, the bridge had to be closed due to deterioration of the lower chord of the trusses, combined with cracks in the concrete piers. Much of which was caused by too much salt, combined with damages due to flooding and weather extremities. Still, the bridge retained its structural integrity and its character until most recently.
The Green Bridge has been a subject of controversy lately because of developments by the Waverly City Council. After its closure in February 2015, the city council voted unanimously in favor of rehabilitating the bridge exactly a year later, by a vote of 5-2. The original plan was to replace the decking of the bridge as well as the bearings and floor beams. The bids were later solicited with the lowest one having the cost of $2.3 million for the work. This was well under the city’s budget by about $300,000, according to the facebook page supporting restoring the Green Bridge. Just as the bid was to be signed and contract let out, the vote for repairing the bridge was reversed- exactly one year later! Thanks to five people speaking for and six against the repairs of the bridge, plus 13 letters for the project in comparison with 9 against, the city council on 22 February this year voted against the plan to repair the Green Bridge, by a vote of 4-3.
Councilman Dave Reznicek’s comment after the vote was best put as follows: “Tonight, we’ve effectively set a precedent that we can go back and undo any vote.” The factors that led to the reversal decision was obvious:
- Costs. At the time of the reversal vote, the city had too many irons in the fire regarding construction projects in the city. This included the reconstruction of several streets, including Cedar Lane and the River Parkway and bridge. While the streets were in dire need of reconstruction, the consensus is the lack of priority as to which streets are a necessity and which ones can wait. Waverly has four Cedar River bridges, but only two that are functioning: The Adams Parkway Bridge to the north and the Hwy. 3 Bridge at downtown. The Green Bridge is closed to traffic and the nearest bridge detour would be through downtown- a waste of gas and money. A fourth bridge is a former railroad crossing that is now a bike trail. A fifth bridge at Cedar River Parkway is being planned and would be the southernmost bridge in the city. The decision to reverse the repair work on the bridge set the precedent for projects that were being undertaken but are now threatened with delays.
- Lack of interest. With the costs for several city projects come the lack of interest from residents. The costs for such projects would come at taxpayer’s expense. Letters flooding into the city council and speeches argued that the bridge should be neither repaired nor replaced because of costs. Some argued for replacing the bridge because in the long term, it would be cost effective, even when constructing bridges at grade with the truss structure. However, even modern bridges cannot take high water too well, as seen in a couple video examples below:
Those who support repairing the Green Bridge have two really legitimate excuses: 1. It would retain the historic integrity of the structure and prolong its lifespan by at least 20 years, 2. It would be cost effective in a way that the bridge would still continue to serve traffic in its original state, meaning one-lane with traffic lights to regulate traffic.
- Personal interest. Politicking was another key factor in the decision to reverse the decision to repair the bridge. One of the leading opponents of the Green Bridge repair project was Edith Waldstein, who not only voted twice against repairing the bridge but rather replacing it, but also twisted the facts to win influence. In a statement after the 4-3 defeat, when members and residents demanded that the vote to repair the bridge be honored, she replied as follows: “What we approved a year ago was not to repair the bridge, it was to go ahead with the process in seeking bids.” Yet her opposition was not new, for previous projects to restore the Green Bridge also failed because of opposition in the city government. This included a task force to restore the bridge in 2003, where both the city and the State of Iowa were to split the cost. The notion seems to be that modernity is better and there is no place for saving anything antique, this despite pleas from members like Hank Bagelman and Mike Sherer to make it a referendum, despite the latter’s statement that there isn’t a consensus from people living in the district where the bridge is located.
What is next for the bridge?
If the city council has it their way, by February of next year, bid could go out to replace the Green Bridge with a pedestrian bridge, being either a concrete span or a prefabricated truss span similar to the current structure. And by February of 2019, we will have a new crossing in place. However, despite looking at the possibilities for the new structure, the city council is not paying attention to three key components:
- There needs to be a crossing in the south end of Waverly at any cost. Until the Parkway Bridge is built, people are still going to have to detour in order to get to the Park District where the bridge is located.
- The Green Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its design corresponding to the standard design introduced a century ago, plus its association with the Illinois Steel Company, one of many steel mills and bridge companies based in the greater Chicago area that contributed to the construction of bridges as part of the expansion of America’s infrastructure between 1880 and 1930. Keeping that in mind, before replacing the bridge, the city council will need to cooperate with the Iowa Historical Society and carry out environmental and cultural impact surveys, the latter in accordance to Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These surveys are time consuming and will look at ways of mitigating replacement of the bridge. As one of the members of the group advocating repairing the bridge, Mary Schildroth stated in an interview: “To those who are simply looking at the cost, we want to remind ourselves that history can’t be replaced; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
- Public consensus is definitely needed in the Green Bridge project. While cooperation with state and federal authorities will be needed for the project- be it repair, rehabilitation, restoration or replacement- the input from the public over the bridge is needed at any cost. Therefore, heeding to the demands of those who have been advocating repairing the bridge- including those who had voted in 2016 but changed their minds the second time around, it is imperative that a referendum is carried out in the fall. By having people go to the polls in November, they can decide on two options
- Repair the bridge and if so, how?
- Replace the bridge and if so with what for a structure?
In addition, should the public favor option A, the question there would be whether the bridge should be reused or recycled. One will need to keep in mind that surveys in connection with Section 106 4f will need to be undertaken before it is replaced; no circumvention is possible in this case.
Times will be interesting for the City of Waverly, as it is struggling to maintain its checks and balances, while at the same time please residents, especially in the Park District and places to the south. But one thing is for sure, the Green Bridge still remains as the key link between the south and the city’s business district, and will be even after the Parkway Bridge opens to traffic in a couple years. This is why it is important that people have a say in what they want for a bridge. And the best way to answer that question is to have a referendum. Only there can the city council plan around who votes for repairing the bridge and who votes for replacing it. And with this referendum, there is no reversal as it happened earlier this year. Once the people have spoken, the city will have to act to fulfill their wishes and restore their reputation.
The whole story on the Green Bridge can be found by clicking here. There you can find previous articles involving the project. The Save the Green Bridge facebook page can be found here. Like to join and share your thoughts and support for the bridge. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.