The proposed replacement bridge for the Broad Avenue bridge.
ALBANY — A grassroots effort has emerged to save the Broad Avenue bridge from demolition.
While it may be too little, too late with the bridge set to come down in the spring, the movement may have picked up support from an unexpected source that could lend the effort credibility.
The state, in conjunction with the city of Albany, intends to demolish the bridge and build a new, steel and girder bridge. Bids will be let out in mid-January for the $9.1 million project.
Largely using the power of social media, longtime Albany resident Betty Rehberg is urging local, state and federal officials to reconsider a decision made more than two years ago to dismantled the bridge and replace it, after large chunks of the footings of the bridge had been eroded away to the point state officials declared the bridge to be unsafe even for pedestrian traffic.
In a letter to local officials, Rehberg urges reconsideration of the demolition of bridge, arguing that it could more easily and cheaply be made secure for pedestrian traffic, which would keep the bridge’s unique architecture and history intact.
“There is a growing group of Albanians that do not want to see our bridge destroyed. It would be nice to have something left in Albany that is actually still standing and not only caught in photographs or our memories,” Rehberg writes.
“It would make a great pedestrian bridge and could be a really nice venue for downtown. Festivals on the bridge, dinners on the bridge, even art displays etc. That bridge is lovely and is photographed every day by people that recognize it. The cities with the most successful downtown’s and the most tourists understand that keeping charm and history is vital. That bridge has both.”
Rehberg points to an effort in Columbus to revitalize its 14th Street bridge as an example of how the bridge could be saved rather than demolished and rebuilt.
According to the city of Columbus-Muscogee County Planning Department, the bridge was closed to pedestrian traffic due to “structural deficiencies” with its footings, much like the Broad Avenue Bridge, and is in the midst of a $5.2 million overhaul that will enhance the streetscape, add new sidewalks, and redevelop the surface of the bridge. Improvements also call for the reconstruction of the bridge footings and scour protection, according to the information on the planning department’s website.
Additionally, Columbus is funding a $4.4 million plaza project in conjunction with the bridge work. The project is supposed to be completed by next Spring.
And it would appear that Rehberg and her 323 “friends” on the “Save the Broad Avenue Bridge” Facebook page aren’t alone in their sentiments.
Wednesday morning, state Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, told those who attended the Albany-Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Rise-N-Shine breakfast that there is “still room for change” in the bridge’s future.
“I think there is still room for changing it if the community shows a will for that to happen,” Fullerton told the group.
Albany City Engineer Bruce Maples, who has been the go-between for the city to the Georgia Department of Transportation that is the project manager for the demolition and construction of the bridge, said that despite the fact that the bids were supposed to be let out in December, it isn’t too late to go in a different direction.
“It’s never too late,” he said. “But the state is the project manager and most of this is being funded by them.”
Maples said that GDOT originally planned to rehabilitate the bridge and did cost estimates to repair it.
To repair the footings, he said, GDOT engineers said it would cost roughly $4.5 million because they’d have to build coffer dams and install caissons to fix the eroded footings.
For the parts of the bridge above-water, Maples said ,the state estimated that it would cost several more million to repair damage to the arches and the road surface in order to make the bridge stable.
In total, GDOT estimated it would cost in excess of $9 million to rehabilitate the bridge. Doing so would increase the lifespan of the bridge by 35 years, he said, compared to a new bridge, which would be roughly 100 years.
“From a cost perspective they’re relatively in the same ballpark,” Maples said. “But when you look at the life expectancy ... they’d get more bang out of their buck building a new bridge than rehabilitating the current one, is what I’m hearing.”