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The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge could see $2.3 million worth of rehabilitation work.
Photo courtesy city of Springfield
The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge could see $2.3 million worth of rehabilitation work.

Council stalls on $2.3M Jefferson Avenue Footbridge project

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Springfield City Council fielded nearly an hour of public comment Monday night on a roughly $2.3 million plan to rehabilitate the historic Jefferson Avenue Footbridge.

Plans for the bridge include restoring its main span at an estimated $1.4 million, while adding elevators and viewing decks on the north and south sides of the structure. Federal Americans with Disabilities Act compliance also is in the works.

The city closed the footbridge – a key pedestrian access point to and from the city’s north side – in 2016 due to structural concerns.

On Monday night, council reviewed whether to approve project funding and seek bids on the work financed largely through at-hand Federal Surface Transportation Block Grant funding, according to Assistant Public Works Director Kirk Juranas.

“We’ve been working on this since March of 2016, so this project has been in development for a long time,” Juranas said, also noting the city would fund $500,000 of the project.

He said seeking bids now could allow the city to award a winning contract by fall. The city, meanwhile, would continue working with the State Historic Preservation Office on the project, Juranas said.

Preservation was a point of pause for the council, which appeared willing to move on the project with an assurance the bridge was restored correctly, among other issues. The steel-suspension footbridge was built in 1902.

“Sometimes, when we do things fast, we do things wrong,” said Councilman Richard Ollis, who motioned to table bidding efforts on the project. “I don’t know if this is the right plan, the right proposal, to send out to bid at this point.”

With a 7-2 vote, the majority of council ultimately followed suit with Ollis, who also suggested alternative pedestrian-access improvements to the Lyon and Washington Avenue underpasses. Council will reconsider the project during its May 7 meeting.

Council members Thomas Prater and Phyllis Ferguson voted in opposition to the two-week tabling.

From the public, council heard of strong community commitment to the footbridge. Others, though, held reserved views on the proposed project funding and whether added attributes, such as elevators and viewing platforms, might alter the structure’s historic presence.

City Landmarks Board member Paden Chambers advised the city to “slow down” and “re-examine” the project to ensure the improvements remained appropriate in terms of historic preservation. Chambers represents Commercial Street on the board.

Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association – noting he spoke only as a resident – also cautioned the council. Worley advised “careful consideration” of project funding in moving forward with the project.

David Eslick also was among the nearly dozen-strong residents who urged council to move forward with the bridgework, but he also erred on the side of caution, asking council to heed preservation guidelines.

“This bridge is probably the most important thing to north-side Springfield,” said Eslick, a former chairman of the city’s Landmarks Board. “This is one of the last steel-suspension footbridges in the United States.”

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