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Time Takes a Toll on Green Bridge

Goulding’s career began at Howell Equipment Co., Chicago, Ill., in 1952.

Wed December 23, 2015 - Midwest Edition

Photo taken by Jason Smith.The bridge, known as the green bridge, was closed after inspectors from WHKS of Mason City found bearings on the bridge had failed and two stringers on the south span had significant corrosion.
Photo taken by Jason Smith.The bridge, known as the green bridge, was closed after inspectors from WHKS of Mason City found bearings on the bridge had failed and two stringers on the south span had significant corrosion.

WAVERLY, Iowa (AP) Closed since February, the Third Street Bridge is more than a landmark in Waverly.

For much of its 98 years of service, it has been a connector for the city’s southeast neighborhood. It also has been an alternate route for residents and commuters.

Now, in service beyond its intended lifespan, it has once again become a source of discussion.

The bridge, known as the green bridge, was closed after inspectors from WHKS of Mason City found bearings on the bridge had failed and two stringers on the south span had significant corrosion.

The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported that rust was so severe at the southeast bearing that one of two gusset plates holding the bearing pin in place was no longer touching the pin, said Casey Faber, bridge inspection program manager of WHKS.

In November, Faber gave members of the City Council a tour of the areas of concern on the bridge that prompted the closure. Councilman Dan Lampe had a short walk. Lampe, who represents the council ward in which the bridge sits, lives near the south approach to the bridge.

“I’m in a unique position,’’ he said.

A 2001 study looked at replacement options for the green bridge. The City Council went so far as applying for $1 million of funds through the Iowa Department of Transportation bridge replacement and rehabilitation program in 2002 to build a new two-lane bridge at the site of the green bridge.

A new bridge would have to follow FEMA and Iowa Department of Natural Resources guidelines and be out of the flood plain. That would mean the bridge and the approaching streets would have to be raised. Lampe’s home on Third Street may have to be torn down to make way for such a bridge.

“My house would have to go,’’ Lampe said.

Despite that, he isn’t advocating one course of action over another until he and his colleagues on the council have more information.

In 2003, a bridge task force committee again recommended the green bridge be replaced with a two-lane bridge in the same location. Public outcry to save the historic structure halted those plans. However, no significant repairs to the green bridge were initiated either.

“It basically kind of stopped in its tracks,’’ said Phil Jones, former city administrator.

In 2006, the City Council voted to commit $10,000 per year for bridge maintenance.

“There was a sentiment that because money was set aside for maintenance, that it could be maintained,’’ Jones said.

In the minutes of a March 2006 City Council meeting, Mike Cherry, city engineer, said the bridge would need work replacing steel floor beams, stringers and connections by 2015.

“I think most people knew we would arrive at this point without putting into place a major program,’’ Jones said.

After a decade of maintenance, deterioration forced inspectors to close it down. Without a plan in place or funding, residents have been left in limbo.

“We can’t even walk that route anymore,’’ said Beth Olson, who lives on the north side of the crossing.

The City Council voted Nov. 16 to commission a study from WHKS on what repairs the green bridge would need to be open for five years, 10 years or beyond and to update the 2001 study with new cost estimates.

Council member Wes Gade voted against the measure, expressing frustration that nine months after the closure, the city had yet to set a course of action. Lampe said at the meeting he wouldn’t feel comfortable voting on a course of action until WHKS’ report information was before the council.

Although decisive action hasn’t been taken, some steps on the issue have proceeded following the closure.

VJ Engineering of Coralville was hired to give the city a second opinion to WHKS’ report. William Kehe of Waverly-based Cedar Valley Engineering also did an inspection and report but concluded the bridge could be open immediately.

“We found he wasn’t really qualified to give those opinions, and that sidetracked us,’’ Jones said.

Even once city leaders receive the report, the decision will not be clear-cut. Sentiment for the bridge, built in 1917, still runs deep.

“I’m torn,’’ said Olson. “I really understand about the two-lane bridge, but I’m really attached to the green bridge — it’s such a landmark for southeast Waverly.’’

The cost of rehabilitating the bridge might not be very popular, either. Faber warned old structures can have hidden problems not seen until work begins. He said any rehabilitation estimates also will come with contingency estimates.

“Everything’s an estimate,’’ Faber said. “We know ahead of time with this structure there’s complexity and some unknowns.’’

Depending on where it’s built, waiting for plans, funding and construction of a new bridge might not be a popular option either. Crossings proposed at Second or Eighth streets have been suggested, but no funding sources have been identified.

Long-term city plans also call for a 10th Avenue South to cross the Cedar River. However, the road itself doesn’t yet extend to the Cedar River and no funding for a structure there is in place either.

“That’s not a real popular option because of the timeline,’’ Lampe said.

After months of closure, having cross-town traffic return to Third Street might not be popular either.

“This time of day, there’d be 30 cars through here in the time we’ve been talking,’’ Lampe said while standing at the bridge outside his home on an early Monday evening. “It seems convenient, but are these roads really built for that traffic?’’

Mike Strydom, who lives on the north side of the green bridge, had his car, which was parked on Third Street Northeast, hit by a drunk driver. He used to use the bridge to run errands and go shopping. He thought the closure was inconvenient at first.

“But now that it has been closed, there has been less traffic and that’s kind of nice,’’ Strydom said.

The extra travel time now seems insignificant, he added.

“I used to think it was a big hassle,’’ Holly Otto said. “Now we’re used to it and it’s a quieter street.’’

However, Southeast Elementary and baseball fields sit close to the crossing, which was convenient for some families. Construction earlier this year also made having the crossing closed inconvenient for some.

“That was definitely when I think we missed having a second bridge,’’ said Brian Birgen, adding he also appreciates the lighter traffic in his neighborhood.

However, Birgen also said he wants to see the span stay.

“I would love to see it open again for pedestrians,’’ he said.

WHKS’ report is due in January. City action will come after. Depending on costs and public input, Lampe might vote to force himself to vacate his home. Lampe said he doesn’t worry about that right now.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,’’ he said.

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