Albany city commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to continue with plans to demolish and replace the Broad Avenue Bridge in downtown Albany.
ALBANY, Ga. — Albany city commissioners voted 6-0 Tuesday in a non-binding show of support for a Georgia DOT-backed plan to demolish and replace the Broad Avenue Bridge, despite pleas from a local group who are asking to delay demolition.
In an email to city officials, Gerald Ross, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s chief engineer, wrote that “current funding is for a bridge replacement and cannot be used for rehabilitation.”
“The bridge funds allocated for the bridge are not for the replacement of a pedestrian bridge. To construct a pedestrian bridge, funds from a different funding source will have to be located,” he wrote.
Additionally, Ross wrote that if it opted to rehabilitate the bridge rather than replace it, the city of Albany will have to repay the state more than $1 million that has been spent on bridge design.
The vote came after City Manager James Taylor said that GDOT officials wanted word from the commission on whether the body was inclined to build a new bridge or to rehabilitate the current bridge.
The statement from GDOT is the latest blow to efforts by bridge preservationists, who are working to convince both the state and the local government that converting the 100-year-old bridge to a pedestrian park is both more financial feasible and more historically conscious than demolishing it.
Calling the statement from Ross “a scare tactic,” Njemile Ali, one of the bridge group’s members, pleaded with commissioners Tuesday to delay demolition until mid-summer when the electorate is set to vote on a regional transportation sales tax that will fund, among other things, a bridge over the Flint connecting Clark Avenue with central Albany.
“We believe that the public needs an opportunity to get more information,” Ali said. “We’re appealing to the city commission to appeal to GDOT on our behalf to look at other options and consider what we’re proposing.”
Currently the city, which is contributing roughly $3 million in sales tax dollars to the demolition of the current bridge and the construction of a new bridge, is planning on letting bids for the project April 20. GDOT, which is contributing the lion’s share of the project funding — roughly $7 million — has said that converting the bridge to a pedestrian-only park is not feasible, following a determination two years ago that the bridge footings had eroded to the point that the bridge itself was on the verge of failing.
Some commissioners were sympathetic to Ali, but many had concerns over spending additional tax dollars on creating a pedestrian bridge when they say there is little data to suggest that GDOT’s position is wrong.
Ward V Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Langstaff led a particularly aggressive line of questioning with Ali Tuesday morning, asking exactly how much the group believed the city should spend on a pedestrian-only park.
“So exactly how much would you spend to rehabilitate the bridge, $10 million?” Langstaff asked.
“Yes,” Ali said.
“Why should we spend $10 million of the taxpayers’ money fixing the current bridge when we can get a new bridge for $3 million?” Langstaff asked.
Ali then pointed to the Clark Avenue Bridge, which, she said, if approved by the voters through the Transportation Investment Act or TIA referendum in July will cost $90 million to build, and is projected to provide access to fewer people than will travel on the Broad Avenue bridge.
“You’re prepared to spend $90 million on the Clark Avenue bridge to move fewer people,” Ali said. “So why not spend $10 million or even $20 million to save the Broad Avenue bridge?”
Christopher Fullerton, another principal of the bridge group, said after Tuesday’s meeting that he respectfully questions GDOT’s assertion that the funding is limited to new construction only.
“We have documentation that suggests there may be more flexibility in the funding than has been stated,” Fullerton said.
Following the meeting, Langstaff says that he’s not opposed to sparing the bridge, but it has to be done in a way that is fiscally responsible.
“I just need something that gives me a legitimate reason to question what GDOT has done. Their studies and their cost estimates,” Langstaff said. “Right now, I don’t have any reason not to believe what they’ve been telling us.”