The fate of Third Street Southeast Bridge has stymied the Waverly City Council for decades, especially since its closure in February 2015.
Should it be repaired or replaced? If replaced, should it be one or two lanes or just for pedestrians with emergency access? Or, should it just be torn down?
During Monday’s study session, the consensus of members was that the span known colloquially as the Green Bridge should be removed as soon as possible before something happens to cause its collapse.
The discussion on Monday, still held on Zoom, comes about a month after the council turned down on a 4-3 vote a $1 million grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation to replace the bridge with a new two-lane vehicular bridge that has a total price tag of around $7 million, according to some reports from members.
City Administrator James Bronner provided the council with estimates on the bridge’s removal and what it would take to display one of the spans in adjacent Brookwood Park for historical purposes. The cost to remove the bridge ranges from $175,000 to $200,000, while moving it into the park would be an estimated total of between $230,000-$255,000.
The city is planning on demolishing a former wastewater collection dome near the park around the fall and winter of 2020, which has a cost of $250,000 budgeted into the fiscal year that begins July 1. Some of the materials in that dome are slated to be a base for parking lots at Cedar River Park, the site of new youth ball diamonds, and the site would be displayed at the dome site.
“The cost hasn’t changed a lot in the last number of years,” Bronner said of the bridge demolition. “The diameter of that dome is the exact length of a span of the bridge.
“It’s been thrown around: It is a place to put it? Is it an easier situation to have the bridge sit on top of it? It all comes down to timing, and if the council wanted to move forward with something like that.”
However, he said it wasn’t as straight-forward as taking the bridge down and moving part of it to the park. As the bridge crosses the Cedar River, the Army Corps of Engineers has to get involved in the proceedings as well as a hazard mitigation process.
The permitting process can take anywhere between a few weeks to a month or two, and then four to six months to complete the mitigation process.
“Then there are arguments that if you don’t put something back, how do you justify doing this,” Bronner said. “You may be looking at advertising, getting plans set to get this engineered and removed at the first part of the year, and if everything goes great from the Corps to hazard mitigation, no issues, no hiccups, you may have the structure being able to be taken out about March.”
However, he said the best time to do that work is in the winter, when the Cedar River is lower. Spring is too unpredictable, with winter thaws and early-season rains causing possible higher water levels. The city could have an open-ended contract that would go through the end of 2021 and allow crews to work on it when conditions are best.
Ward 3 Councilman Rod Drenkow had submitted a question about how long the bridge could stay. In the memo, Bronner said it could feasibly be there around 10-20 years, unless during a big flood event, a floating tree takes it out, causing a larger hazard.
Drenkow said he asked because he believes there is still a need to replace the Green Bridge with a vehicular span. However, if the city removes the bridge without an immediate replacement, the $1 million grant offer is null and void.
“Removing the bridge removes any possibility of receiving that grant in the future,” Drenkow said. “As long as that bridge is still standing there, if the decision is made sometime in the future that we really need to have a bridge there, we’ll still have access to that million-dollar grant.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Heather Beaufore clarified that the grant would only go toward a two-lane bridge and no other span options.
Ward 1 Councilman Brian Birgen said the council should stand by its decision to move away from the two-lane option. The next step he said is to remove the Green Bridge, as its current status was to get the grant.
“It’s important for us to move on and not wait around another five years in the hopes that someone else changes their mind,” Birgen said. “It is not important to me how fast this gets done, as much as it is important that we make progress towards it.
“I want to make sure we are on a trajectory to reach a conclusion on the Green Bridge saga that has haunting the City of Waverly for the last 20 years. I would like some resolution on this, even more than I want a particular outcome, is I want an outcome.”