March 2, 2012
Thursday's presentation by Neil Clark, the architect behind Columbus's transformation of its 14th Street bridge from thoroughfare to pedestrian park was both thought provoking and inspirational.
Clark told those handful of people in attendance, the vast majority of which are fervant Broad Avenue Bridge supporters, that the project will be another stop in Columbus' "String of Pearls" along its 15-mile Riverwalk.
And therein lies the conundrum for Albany.
Consider us Columbus-lite. We have a smaller population, a smaller river and no sister city like Phenix City to latch onto.
And, we haven't spent the last 20 years funneling better than $100 million of tax dollars, bonds and grants into bricks and mortar along our river. We have a nice riverfront trail, Ray Charles Plaza and Veterans Amphitheater, but it's no Riverwalk.
Would the Broad Avenue Bridge make a grandiose memorial to veterans and could it serve, on its own merits as a place where people would want to come and eat lunch outside, or spend an afternoon with their families? Of Course.
But today's government climate is now being shaped, for better or for worse, by the conservatives and tea partiers who are demanding an end to frivolous government spending.
Officials are scrutinizing their funding, as well they should be, and are looking for projects that are less form and more function. Don't forget that for all of its work on its Riverwalk, Columbus was still listed as one of America's most broke cities because of its debt-to-revenue situation.
It's ultimately going to boil down to whether the public wants a $5.5 million pedestrian park that happens to be a bridge that, by Clark's estimates, will last another 50 years, or if the public wants a $9 million vehicular bridge that's a little more pedestrian-friendly than we're used to that will, by GDOT's estimates, last 100 years.
At the end of the day, it's not unreasonable for the bridge group to ask for a delay until the TSPLOST vote in July. If that passes, Albany's need for a vehicular bridge will be greatly diminished with the construction of the Clark Avenue Bridge, which could give the group some momentum in swaying the power brokers to go a different direction with the Broad Avenue bridge.