DES MOINES, IOWA (USA)/ GLAUCHAU (SAXONY), GERMANY- It has been almost six years since the closure of the Fifth Avenue Bridge, spanning the Raccoon River at the confluence with the Des Moines River at Iowa’s state capital. It has been five years since the creation of the social network platform devoted to saving the three-span Pratt through truss bridge, nicknamed as the Green Bridge, which was built by local, but well-known bridge builder, George E. King in 1898. And lastly, it has been three years since the reopening of this historic bridge and with that, two years since the introduction of new lighting. Quite an achievement for one bridge which has received the support of over 1300 people since its launch.
Now the facebook page Save the Fifth Avenue Pedestrian Bridge (Green Bridge) has reached the crossroads and we need your help. There are some bridges in and around Des Moines that are being targeted for replacement, some them have already been approved. At the same time, articles, postcards and other photos on these structures have been found and posted on multiple websites and facebook pages. The Lost Des Moines facebook page is getting bigger and bigger, with more and more relicts of the past having been met with the wrecking ball.
And with that, the bridges as well. After all, they are just as important to the history and heritage to Des Moines as the historic buildings themselves. Therefore, the Chronicles would like some input regarding the Green Bridge page. There are ……. Options. You should decide what to do there.
Option 1: Do nothing. The Green Bridge page would remain as is, and photos and info on the bridge would be added from time to time.
Option 2: Change the page and focus on the Bridges of Des Moines: Past and Present. Here, everyone could add photos, newspaper articles, postcards, stories and even news events that deal with bridges in Des Moines
Option 3: Change the page and focus on the historic bridges in Iowa, past and present.Based on the Lost Places in Iowa facebook page, this one would focus on historic bridges in the state, past and present and would welcome the items mentioned in Option 2.
Option 4: The same as in Option 4, but it would focus on the Bridges along the Des Moines Riverfrom its starting point in southwestern Minnesota until its confluence with the Mississippi.
Option 5: Other ideas. Here you need to be specific and write down your ideas in the comment page
Option 6: Shut it down and archive it. This would be the last resort.
What do you think? Click on the ballot below and spread the word. The voting will close on 1 April with a decision to follow afterwards.
Social networking has played a key role in preserving many historic bridges in the US and beyond, as it has served as a platform for ideas and debate. It is hoped that the Green Bridge facebook site continues operating as it has been, but perhaps under a different name and format. The question is how? And this is where you come in.
DES MOINES- As the old saying goes: Let there be light! 🙂
And this is what happened last week on the 15th at the Green Bridge, located over the Raccoon River at Fifth Avenue and Jackson Street in Des Moines. Fresh from a well-deserved renovation of the bridge, which included new decking, rehabilitation of the trusses and painting the bridge, Musco Sports Lighting and donors from the Green Bridge Committee (which includes MidAmerican Energy Foundation, Christensen Development, and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO) contributed over $175,000 towards stringing new lights on the truss bridge. When clicking on the link and video, one will see the difference between the lighting before (powered mainly by flourescent energy-saving lighting) and after….. 🙂
Dozens of people were on hand as the bridge was “relit.”
38 light fixtures were needed for the LED lighting, which according to MidAmerica, will produce 2 kilowatt of lighting, and cost the City $2.50 a day or $850 annually! The lighting of the bridge resembles a reverse negative photo of the bridge taken in the daytime, except the 1898 structure, built by George E. King, has an illuminating emerald green color, seen as far as a half mile away in each direction. It’s even brighter than another truss bridge located downstream, the Red Bridge, a former railroad which had been raised recently to allow for more river current to flow freely even during flooding. Some photos taken by Chris Johnson shows how bright the bridge is (click here to see more)
Despite the bridge being reopened to bike traffic since November last year, the grand reopening of the bridge will happen next year, as the City is awaiting approval of the US Army Corps of Engineers on constructing a new plaza, which is to be located at one of the ends of the bridge; most likely on the southern end. More information on this and the current developments will follow on the Chronicles.
The ale is on the house and people are celebrating! But soon, the Green Bridge, spanning the Raccoon River in the south of Des Moines, will be receiving its much-needed makeover. After raising over $2.3 million over the course of two years, people sharing stories and suggestions for the bridge through its facebook platform and other campaigns, rehabilitation will be undertaken beginning next year with the hope to have the bridge reopened to traffic by 2017. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had an opportunity to interview one of the key figures behind the preservation efforts, Carl Voss, to find out how the group Save the Jackson Street (Green) Bridge, supported by the majority of Des Moines’ population of 230,000, plus numerous people with a connection to the bridge’s history, bucked a current trend the city is witnessing with many historic buildings coming down, to save a rare piece of history that clearly belongs to the city. Here is what we found out from him:
How did you guys collect that much money for the project? What events did you have apart from the marathon and the introduction of the brew?
No marathon; not sure where that came from. Oh, I bet that’s a reference to the Mayor’s Annual Ride for Trails, an annual April event sponsored by Des Moines Parks and Recreation to support the city’s trail network. This year, the net ($12,500) went toward the bridge project.
Tapping of the golden keg for Bridge Builder Pale Ale (Oct. 8) was our only other public event. We hoped 100 people would attend; we ended up with nearly 400. A measure of success: attendees drained the ATM machine, which had to be replenished.
Des Moines looks best when public and private groups come together to support a project. And we had it great outpouring of success.
From the public sector—city, county, and state $750,000 from the City of Des Moines (money they would have spent to tear down the bridge)
$500,000 from State of Iowa Recreational Trails grant
$225,000 from the Polk County Supervisors
$12,500 from the Mayor’s Annual Ride for Trails
The bridge is part of the Meredith Trail; the Meredith Foundation was extremely generous and made an initial in-kind contribution for a $100,000 engineering study of the bridge rehabilitation. The City of Des Moines Engineering Department accepted the study by Genesis Structures of Kansas City and used that study a basis to assemble the bridge package.
The Meredith Foundation donated an additional $200,000 toward the bridge ($300,000 total). Other contributions ranged from $20 to $200,000. Included in this: family foundations, corporations, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, Capital Striders Running Club, The Society of Italian-Americans Auxiliary, and the Knights of Columbus.
We tried to cover all bases! Yes, we were extremely fortunate. Only one downtown business said no. Incredible.
Who all donated for the project as far as businesses were concerned?
Nearly every downtown developer made a significant contribution to this project. Because the funds are held by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, there are benefits individuals, foundations, and business contribution as either nonprofit contributions or marketing expenses. Through an agreement with the City of Des Moines, we also accepted three-year pledges; nice for foundations.
What difficulties did you have in the efforts?
My recollection is that once the $500,000 state grant for recreational trails was secured (required a $500,000) match, we felt the task was doable.
With the Younkers, Methodist Hospital and YMCA meeting their untimely end, was there a point where you were afraid that the Green Bridge would also meet its fate?
A little background. After an initial engineering study determined the bridge to be unsafe (April 2013), the Des Moines city manager recommended tearing down the bridge at a cost of $750,000. After members of the Des Moines Park Board resisted tearing down the bridge and embarked on a social-media campaign, the public joined in (Bridgehunter’s Chronicles was part of this). The Des Moines City Council voted 7-0 in December 2013 to hold off tearing down the bridge and see if dollars could be raised to save the structure. (Side note: I served as an interim city council member when the vote was taken.)
The change was instituted from the ground up by a small group.
Personally, I always felt our volunteer committee was up to the task. It was a fabulous volunteer committee with plenty of community connections. We did this on our own without a professional fund-raiser or marketing professional.
We had a tight timeframe: Raise the funds by the end of August so the bid package could be assembled and bids approved in the December 2015 to January 2016 timeframe. We met our goal.
What exactly is next with the bridge project? What is the time frame we’re looking at between now and the time the bridge reopens?
The bridge packet for potential bidders is being assembled now.
Nov. 22: Council to order construction of the bridge (I think in city language: Bids are advertised)
Dec. 8: Bids due (we’ll have a fingers crossed that the bids come in on or under budget)
Dec. 21: approve contract (assuming a qualified bidder comes in under $3.2 million).
Rehabilitation will begin with the spring construction season (March-April), which helps contain costs (completed in one season). One of the necessary expenses is tenting the bridge to remove lead-based paint.
6.What more is needed for the project? What can a person do to help?
We have raised the $2.3 million targeted for the rehabilitation of the bridge.
Donor plazas. We are now seeking additional dollars for donor plazas (one on each river bank). We already have a $50,000 in-kind gift to tell the story of the bridge construction and the south side Des Moines neighborhood that the 1898 bridge connected. The bridge opened up downtown Des Moines jobs and retail to the vibrant south side neighborhoods, known primarily as an Italian immigrant neighborhood. Many of the descendents of those original Italian families have prospered in Des Moines and served as public officials, business leaders, and restaurateurs.
We are accepting $200 donor bricks for the plazas. I suspect some of these donations will come about when people actually see work being done on the bridge. Details at savejacksonbridge.com
LED lights. We are working with a local lighting expert who is really jazzed about adding LED lights to this bridge, which will be opened 24/7 to walkers, runners, and bicyclists. As you might expect, the LED lighting bundle is not part of the basic rehabilitation, so this will be an additional expense.
If a person is interested in the bridge brew, how can it be ordered/bought?
In all, 640 gallons were brewed for this event. Bridge Builder Pale Ale is available at the Confluence Brewery, several local bars and restaurants, and many Hy-Vee grocery stores. Bridge Builder is available in ½ growlers (1 quart) for $10 in the grocery stores. The brewery created a really nice silk-screen design for the pint glasses and ½ growlers.
I think I can speak for most committee members: We were committed to saving this bridge. Dang, it’s a part of the downtown fabric and was such an important to link the south side to downtown Des Moines. Great stories have arisen from people who remember walking across the bridge to go to a downtown movie. Or terrified teenage boys and girls driving across the rumbling timbers for the first time when it was still opened to auto traffic.
I think we were happily stunned when so many like-minded people stepped up to contribute—local history buffs, bridge fans, walkers, runners, cyclists, downtown developers, and downtown residents.
This project caught the attention of the pubic and the media. We’re so pleased to save this bridge that’s on the National Historic Register of Places.
What’s in a name?
We found the original 1896 bridge drawings for the 5th Street Raccoon River Bridge. (Bridge was actually built in 1898.) When the bridge was added to the Historic Register in 1995, it was added as the Southwest Fifth Street Bridge
Some people call it the Green Bridge, the current color, even though it’s been dark brown/black, reddish brown, silver or aluminum over the years.
Others call it the Jackson Street Bridge, even though there’s no Jackson Street in Des Moines. It’s actually Jackson Avenue, a street name that popped up 10 years after the bridge opened.
If you want to know more about how you can help, please click on the website and there, you can contact the people who can help you. The Chronicles will continue to keep you posted on the latest on the rehabilitation efforts of the bridge, which is about to start.
DES MOINES, IOWA- March 2013: The Green Bridge, officially known as the 5th Avenue or Jackson Street Bridge, was closed to all traffic- cyclists and pedestrians alike. The reason: Structural deterioration, especially among the pinned connections combined with concerns involving the restoration efforts that occurred 20 years ago, after the 1898 structure was converted to recreational traffic. There were worries that the work of art, courtesy of George E. King, who had his bridge building business in Des Moines at around the turn of the century, would end up like the YMCA Riverfront Building and the Methodist Hospital- a pile of rubble!
October 2015- two years later: After two years of efforts and contributions by people of all aspects, the Green Bridge will be rebuilt, thanks to a total of $2.3 million that was raised by the Save the Green Bridge organization through businesses, residents, cyclists, historians, and even bridge-lovers. Even the local bridge company, Jensen Construction contributed in the cause with the bridge inspection which revealed that it could be rehabilitated and reused for less money than the cost for demolition and replacement.
As part of the accomplished goal, Confluence Brewery, located in Des Moines’ southside near the bridge, is producing and selling the Bridge Builder’s Ale, a special beer that is scheduled to be on sale today. A special event will take place this evening at the Brewery, with proceeds going to the new lighting on the bridge. With the money raised and then some, plans are in the work to reconstruct the bridge by building a new deck with some observation points, strengthening the piers, and repairing the steel parts of the bridge. This will be underway come next year with the bridge being reopened by 2017. The Chronicles will feature an interview to provide more information on the fund-raising efforts and the plans to revitalize the bridge after being closed for two years. This will be featured very soon.
To sum up the efforts to save the Green Bridge, Des Moines has lost some great architectural works during the years the structure was closed off to all traffic. Apart from the CGW Railroad Bridge being removed in 2014 and the historic riverside retaining wall near the Martin Luther King Bridge being replaced, 2015 brought forth the loss of the Younkers Building because of fire a year earlier, the historic Methodist Hospital and the YMCA Riverside Building to implosion. And while Younkers was a loss that was out of the hands of the City, the loss of the Y and Methodist Hospital could have been avoided. Yet its sequential implosions in both buildings provided a good tune to the song by ELO entitled “Don’t Let Me Down.” And while the demolition contractor may be a big fan of the 70s rock group, he will be disappointed to know that the song has a true meaning for a landmark that the majority of Des Moines have fought hard to save- a rarity that does not deserve to be brought down; a rarity that will reopen soon. That means the song will go on, and the demo contractor will have to perfect his ELO song elsewhere. 😉
DES MOINES- While work will eventually be underway to replace the Grand Avenue Bridge over the Des Moines River in Iowa’s state capital, with a faux pas arch bridge design that is presenting a controversy among the city’s population, work on preserving the Green Bridge over the Raccoon River at 5th Avenue near the junction of the major river is ongoing and very tirelessly. Already decided, apart from renovating the three-span Pratt through truss bridge built by George E. King, is to narrow the roadway and include observation decks on the bridge, fundraising for the bridge is already underway with a pair of options to choose from:
The Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, together with the Des Moines Register newspaper and Bike World Bike Store in Des Moines are sponsoring the 28th annual Mayor’s Bike and Run this Saturday, April 18th beginning at 8:00am. The race will start and end at City Hall and will go along the trails through downtown Des Moines. To participate in the competition, it is $5 for children ages 5-18 and $25 for adults. You can pre-register before April 17th. Otherwise at the gate, it is $35 per person. A raffle drawing will be included in the race. All proceeds will go towards the restoration of the bridge. For more information and to register, please click here.
The Des Moines Community Foundation is also collecting money for the project. If you are interested in donating for the project, you can send money to the following address:
Des Moines Community Foundation, 1915 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309.
When submitting a check for the amount, please place in the subject line: “Friends of the Jackson Street Bridge” (That’s the original name of the Green Bridge). All donations are tax deductable and all the money collected will go towards the project.
The Ray Gun Site is also chipping in on the donation by selling the Jackson Street Bridge t-shirts. They are $21 per shirt and are available in various sizes. To order, please click here. The design of the shirt is similar to some of the photos submitted to the Green Bridge’s facebook website.
At the present time, $2.5 million is needed for the restoration efforts, and every cent matters, no matter where it comes from (within the US or even outside the country). There are many other options open as to raise money for preserving the bridge. If you have an idea worth sharing, please post it on the Save the Jackson Street- Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge’s facebook website or contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles using the contact form below. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will continue to keep you posted on the developments involving the Green Bridge and results of the fundraising that is going on even as the article is posted.
City Council Approves Public-Private Project for Historic Bridge;Restoration of Another Historic Bridge Under Way; So is Voting for Ammann Awards
It’s becoming a rarity that we are getting a series of good news about the future of historic bridges, even more so when you have the public sector involved. But at Christmas Time, it is almost a once in a lifetime opportunity. Here’s why as the Chronicles has a special Newsflyer dedicated to some preservation projects that are under way right now!
City Council Approves Public-Private-Project for Green Bridge
The Des Moines City Council last night unanimously approved a joint project to raise funding for the restoration of the Jackson Street /5th Street (a.k.a. Green) Bridge. The vote was 7-0 and reflects on the outcome that had come about a week earlier. There, the Friends of the Green Bridge presented the proposal for the project to the City Council, which included speeches by many people involved. There has been unanimous support for the project ever since the facebook and petition pages were launched in November, which was one of the key factors, leading to last night’s decision for the project. The approval includes relegating the $750,000 originally set aside for bridge demolition for the restoration project, plus raising additional funds for the project, pending on what is actually needed. While a report from the construction firm Shuck-Britson claimed that between $2m and $3.75m is needed for the project, another firm, Jensen Construction, also based in Des Moines, will undergo a thorough inspection to determine the needs of the bridge. Fundraising efforts will start in the next year, the Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest there. Once deemed as condemned, the Green Bridge, built in 1898 by a local bridge builder is receiving a new life from unexpected sources, namely, the people wanting to keep the bridge- and now the City Council. 🙂
More information about the bridge can be found here. An interesting story about Jensen Construction and its history can be found here. Article about the project: here.
Author’s Note: More updates, discussions and other facts about the bridge can be found here, but please keep in mind that restoration examples can be found in the Chronicles’ facebook page.
Restoration of Bunker Mill Bridge Underway
Rising out of the ashes caused by arson in August, another Iowa historic bridge, located 170 miles east of Des Moines, is currently being restored. The Bunker Mill Bridge, built by the King Bridge Company in 1887 and reinforced by the Iowa Bridge Company in 1913, is located southeast of Kalona in Washington County. The bridge’s decking was torched in August 2013- the same time as the Historic Bridge Weekend. Yet, thanks to the county’s approval of selling the bridge to the organization, Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge and the fundraising that has been done so far, work is being undertaken on the bridge. At the moment, after removing the charred decking in November, crews have jacked up the bridge’s superstructure to strengthen the abutments. I-beams, which support the decking of the bridge, is needed for the work, and many bridge parts are being strengthened through welding and new parts that coincide with the original construction of the bridge- termed in-kind restoration. Nels Raynor of BACH Steel, a candidate for the 2013 Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement, is overseeing the project with 20-years of experience and many successful projects under his belt already. While the cost for the project has been reduced to $275,000 (from the $450k that was originally estimated), the funding is over a third of the way finished and more is needed. For more information, click here for details. A step in the right direction and thanks to the work of many dedicated people, Suzanne Micheau, Julie Bowers and others, the bridge is making a comeback bit by bit. 🙂
Voting underway for Ammann Awards
Don’t forget that the Chronicles’ Ammann Awards is in full swing. Because of the high number of entries this year, you still have a chance to download and fill out the ballot (click here) and submit it via e-mail before January 3rd. The winners for each of the eight categories will be announced on the 7th. If you have problems filling out the ballot, an e-mail with your favorites is also fine, too.
At the end of the year, there will also be a Smith Awards voting for the category of Biggest Bonehead Story. There the voting will be different as articles will be posted on the Chronicles’ facebook page, and the winner will be based on the number of likes received. Like the Chronicles and follow for more details.
Author’s note to close things off:The Chronicles was a bit absent this month due to a tour through Berlin’s Christmas markets. Berlin is Germany’s capital. More information, photos and articles about the Christmas markets can be found through sister column, The Flensburg Files. Articles about the various markets and interesting facts will be posted both on the page as well as on its facebook page during the holiday season.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and the Flensburg Files would like to wish you and yours the best and safest this holiday season! Merry Christmas and Happy 2014 from our house to yours! 😀
Proposal to Demo the bridge to be brought up at Meeting 26 November; Voting to Commence Christmas Eve
Things are working much faster than anticipated with regards to the Green Bridge in Des Moines. While talks are being scheduled with regards to finding alternatives to demolishing the Jackson Street (Green) and neighboring Waterworks Park Bridges, the Des Moines City Council and the Park Board have officially planned a pair of important meetings, according to many sources, with regards to the future of the Green Bridge. The proposal to demolish the bridge will be presented to the City’s Park Board on November 26th at 5:00pm at the City Council’s Chamber, with voting to commence on Christmas Eve. Already, according to unknown sources, the City’s manager had proposed to demolish the Green and Meredith Trail Bridges last week to the Park Board only to be turned down by a 7-1 vote. Despite the doom and gloom being presented by many claiming that the Green Bridge is in imminent danger of collapsing, it appears that the problems that led to its closure in March 2013 are fixable which is a good sign. The question is who will do it and how…
For those wanting to express their support for saving the Green Bridge, click here to contact the City’s council members and here to contact the Park Board. You can also like and follow the developments via facebook by clicking here. (800 Likes and counting, which is a very good sign that the interest in saving the bridge is present). Please ensure that you do this before the 26th meeting as well as prior to voting on Christmas Eve. The Chronicles will continue to follow the developments as they are unveiled, but it appears that the race to see who can get to the bridge first, between the bulldozer and the protesters, is off and running, and many people are looking on with great interest. And one will not have to ask who is cheering the loudest at the moment (and will continue to do so to the very end). 🙂
Waterworks Park Bridge targeted for replacement with a larger bridge. Plan not yet finalized.
As the fight has started to save the Green Bridge at 5th Avenue over the Raccoon River, the days of another historic bridge located upstream may be numbered. If rumors hold true, the Waterworks Park Bridge, located at the park bearing its name, is being scheduled for demolition and replacement with a wider and bigger bridge. As mentioned in the third part of the series on Des Moines’ bridges, the two-span Pratt pony truss was built in 1922 but was converted to a bike trail crossing in 1999 and has since been serving as one of the key points in the park as well as along the Grey Lake bike trail which runs along the Raccoon River in the southern part of Des Moines. It is unknown whether the truss spans used to serve as a vehicular bridge or if they were relocated from outside. But judging by the photos recently submitted by John Marvig (and can be viewed by clicking here), the bridge’s main spans as well as the approach spans appear to be in great condition. Should there be any concern regarding the bridge, then most likely with the steel piers for they were repaired and reinforced with additional steel to ensure that the structure stays in place inspite of the ice jams and flooding. Yet, most of these problems can be solved by replacing the piers with those that are sturdier, mainly a combination of concrete and steel.
If a bigger bridge is to take place of this truss bridge, then the City will be mistaken if they think that the structure requires minimal maintenance. There is no such thing as a zero-maintenance bridge unless a person wants to replace it every ten years at the expense of tax-payers’ dollars because of structural concerns that were neglected . For any bridge, maintenance is expected to assure the bridge’s long-lasting lifespan, and given the condition of the Waterworks Park Bridge, all it takes is some cosmetic and structural work and the truss bridge will last another 50-60 years. It is highly doubtful that a modern structure, as proposed by the City, can do that, let alone make the park look nicer than it is right now.
While work on saving the Green Bridge is already in full gear, it will not be long until another movement to save this bridge gets going. So stay tuned for the developments.
The struggle to save an important landmark of the City of Des Moines has begun! As recently as this past Tuesday, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, in conjunction with Lost Des Moines has launched a facebook site devoted to preserving the Fifth Street Bridge, spanning the Raccoon River connecting Des Moines’ city center with the southern suburbs (more info on the bridge’s history can be found here). The Save the Jackson Street- Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge facebook page is a platform where people can contribute photos, information and stories on this structure (nicknamed Green Bridge), as well as address pleas to the City of Des Moines, which owns the bridge as part of the bike trail system, to reconsider the recent decision to close the structure permanently and remove it. Right now, we’re collecting the first 1,000 Likes, with the bar being raised after reaching the goal. Once the mark is reached, there will be many measures to bring all parties together and find ways to fix and reopen this important link. A petition drive and informational meetings are two of many ideas that are being considered. Like and follow this page (by clicking here) as updates will be presented as they come.
While most information and updates will be found through the facebook page, the Chronicles will continue to provide stories on historic bridge preservation examples, including looking at ways historic bridges can be restored, being a reference for this bridge as well as others that are in danger of being demolished and replaced. This in addition to the bridge tours and the like. Like and follow on the Chronicles’ facebook and twitter pages and stay tuned for more stories to come.
The Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge, also known as the Green Bridge, is one of many bridges of its kind that is part of Des Moines’ heritage because of its contribution to the city’s history and infrastructure. Built in 1898 by a local bridge builder, J.H. Killmar, with help from the George E. King Bridge Company, using steel from the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company of Pittsburgh, the Green Bridge features three Pratt through truss spans that are pinned connected and have Howe Lattice portal bracings that resemble the characteristics of the through truss spans built by King at that time. Yet the uniqueness of the bridge lies not within its aesthetic design and its integral part of the City’s network along the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, but within its history.
Already at the start of the bidding for a new crossing, there was a bidding war regarding where the structure should be built between the “East Siders” who wanted a crossing over the Des Moines River at Sixth Street to provide a key connection between the City and the agricultural areas, and the “West Siders” who wanted a crossing at Fifth Street over the Raccoon River to provide access to the business district from the south end. This was in connection with the $30,000 in unappropriated funds the city council had put up for grabs. The “West Siders”, led by the Clifton Land Company, won the competition and the bidding was let out to the bridge company who would put a crossing over the Raccoon River, while land owners foot the bill for the abutments and flood control. The contract was given to J.H. Killmar in July 1896, but was not validated due to a lawsuit brought forth by the competing bridge contractors, who practiced the bidding combine- a practice where competing bridge companies “…would appoint several high bidders and one low bidder for each project. In this fashion, they could predict who would win the project, the low-bidder, and each contractor would take turns submitting the lowest bid for various projects. The only snag in this plan is that all contractors bidding on a project must be members of the combine for the scheme to work successfully.”(Fraser, 1993) According to the bridge survey conducted in 1993, such bidding practice was considered immoral and illegal, and Killmar managed to be the outsider who received a generous contract allowing him to build his masterpiece. While the Lower Court ruled in favor of the bridge combine, Killmar and the City appealed to the State Supreme Court, which overturned the ruling on October 27th, 1897. Right after the ruling, Killmar commenced with his work, and despite bad weather and delays in the shipment of steel and other materials, the bridge was completed on June 22nd, 1898, at the cost of $19,000.
The bridge served traffic for 95 years until structural issues, caused by wear and tear, combined with damages from the Great Flood of 1993 forced its closure. Yet because of its significance to the city’s history, plus it represented one of the finest examples of bridges built by Killmar and King, the bridge received its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. At the same time, the structure was rehabilitated and converted to bike and pedestrian trail use and became an integral part of the City’s bike trail system. It is one of eight bridges in the city that one can see lit up at night and still provides access to the southern suburbs from the city center.
With all the conflicts that had occurred when constructing the bridge, there is one on the horizon involving its possible demolition and removal. Structural deficiencies in the bridge led the City to close the bridge in March 2013, and the bridge has been closed since then. Word has gone around the City that the closure will be indefinite with plans to remove the entire structure being decided upon by the city council. A lot is at stake with this bridge, yet the reasons for the demolition seem lame. The Army Corp. of Engineers claim that there are too many bridges along the Raccoon River making the southern part of the city vulnerable, yet there are just as many bridges along the Des Moines River going through downtown as the ones along the Raccoon. Even more notable are the bridge types, for the Fifth Street Bridge is the only bridge of its kind remaining along the Raccoon River, and all it would take is to raise the structure four feet to alleviate the floodwaters, which occurs once in 100 years. It would be mammoth of an effort to do the same thing with the concrete arch bridges located next to the bridge.Then there is the claim of structural issues, which included problems with the bridge decking and the questionable repairs made on the bridge in 1998. Yet they were not specified in detail for people to understand. This should lead to questions being raised as to: 1. What exactly are the structural issues noted on the bridge, 2. Could they be fixed at an affordable price (99.9% of the time, the answer to that question is “yes.”), and finally, 3. Why were these structural issues not addressed when the bridge was rehabilitated and converted into a pedestrian/bike crossing 15 years ago?If the claim that the City does not want to maintain the bridge anymore is true (which was mentioned by many discussing about the situation), then the council members are a mile away from reality, for the City is obliged to maintain all of its bridges, including the pedestrian ones, to ensure that they are safe and they last a long time.
It is unknown what the future holds for the bridge, but the majority of the population favors fixing and reopening the bridge. Even more so, they demand an explanation as to why they are unwilling to put more money into a bridge like this one, which appears to be in pristine condition with perhaps some minor repairs and new paint needed, which will cost half the amount the City claimed it will cost ($1.75 million in comparison to $750,000 needed to demolish the bridge).Furthermore, as the bridge is a National Landmark, the City will eventually be locking horns with the State and Federal Governments, which will force them to reconsider their stance. It was already done with the Cedar Avenue Bridge in Bloomington, Minnesota, 150 miles north of the state capital, back in August, even though problems the bridge has is similar to what is on the Green Bridge. Work will commence on restoring the five-span truss bridge next year, with a target plan of reopening it in 2015. With successes involving the Cascade and Wagon Wheel Bridges, the State will not hesitate to put a stop to the plans, which will be a blessing to those who favor keeping the Green Bridge in tact.
In the end, the future of the bridge will lie in the hands of the people of the City. While the CGW Railroad Bridge was demolished due to flood damage and arson which made even restoring the structure useless, the City will not accept losing another historic bridge because of something that can be fixed. With fewer truss bridges left in the state, people will stand for the Green Bridge and at least be allowed to vote on it through a referendum. Then they can decide whether they want the bridge restored or replaced.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will be following the situation closely and keep you informed on the bridge’s future. In the meantime, have a look at the photos of the bridge by clicking here and you are free to decide how to repair the unique structure with a history that people want to keep.