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Steve Mullen: A bridge that helped revive a city


Steve Mullen



It''s too outdated to handle traffic. It has been derided as a bridge to nowhere -- or at least nowhere that anyone wants to go. Some wonder why we shouldn''t just knock it down, rather than fix it up. 


I''m not referring to the old Highway 82 bridge over the Tombigbee near the Riverwalk, which could one day become a pedestrian walkway and a recreational centerpiece for the city. I''m referring to the Walnut Street Bridge in Chattanooga, Tenn. -- a renovated span over the Tennessee River that has literally transformed the city''s waterfront, much like the old river bridge could do for Columbus. 


The Walnut Street Bridge was built in 1891, and connects downtown Chattanooga with the city''s North Shore area. It closed to traffic in 1978, and slowly decayed over the next decade. Calls for its demolition were countered by citizens who wanted it renovated, and in 1993, after five years of work, it reopened as a pedestrian bridge.  


At 2,376 feet, it''s now one the world''s longest pedestrian bridges, and is the centerpiece of a revitalization of the city''s waterfront. The city located parks (including a Riverwalk), a museum and a city aquarium nearby -- and by all accounts, the areas on each side of the bridge are better for it. The North Shore, once a poverty-stricken, industrial area -- a place no one wanted to go -- is now being revitalized. Now, condos, restaurants and parkways greet visitors and residents on each end of the bridge. 


"It''s a jewel of the downtown landscape," Assistant City Engineer Dennis Malone recently said in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The bridge just reopened after a renovation that replaced its asphalt walkway with wooden planks, adding to the period feel of the bridge (at a cheaper cost than repaving). 


Of course, there are differences between Chattanooga and Columbus. Columbus'' bridge is much smaller, and would be renovated at a lower cost. And, the state Department of Transportation has committed to funding 80 percent of the estimated $2 million project -- a godsend that the handful of visionary bridge advocates in Chattanooga back in the 1980s surely could have only dreamed about. 


The Columbus project has stalled, however. The city of Columbus, which scored the state grant for the bridge, suddenly has cold feet about putting up its share of the matching funds, as does Lowndes County, which had agreed years ago to a half-and-half split. The city and county attempted to dump the whole thing in the Convention and Tourism Bureau''s lap, and the CVB reluctantly agreed to put up a third of the estimated $400,000 match.  


Also unlike Chattanooga, there is hardly a grassroots effort among a skeptical public to get the bridge going. Few seem to see it as a potential economic engine. Others, who look around at the state of the city''s streets and infrastructure, express pessimism in the city''s ability to maintain it. 


And the most important question: Will city and county leaders agree to a three-way split? The jury''s still out. No one from either city or county has spoken to CVB leaders since its decision to chip in funding a week ago. 


Maybe they''re too busy. The city and county have other things on their mind, recreation-wise. Plans for Tan Yard Park, the new soccer complex and city park in Burns Bottom, are being finalized. This Monday, supervisors and City Council members will be briefed on the complex, with a public meeting to follow that evening. 


Tan Yard Park will be a huge boost to downtown. The bridge project would complement the park and the Riverwalk, and maybe spawn improvements across the river. As long as we''re talking about three-way splits, our leaders might consider thinking of these projects as equal thirds, that combine to create a better future for Columbus.


Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment jane commented at 4/28/2010 8:30:00 PM:

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?????? What we really need is a good grocery store. And a good clothing store. And a good resaurant. An a good sportsplex.


Article Comment Kat commented at 4/30/2010 7:25:00 PM:

Some people are blind to the fact that in order for the grocery stores or clothing stores or sportsplex to come, you have to have the people to support them. Industry, factories,and other employers look for a place to locate that has good "quality of life". Soccer parks, walking paths, bicycle trails- they all contribute to "quality of life". Columbus residents need to look at what has happened in other areas that have re-invested in their river front locations.


Article Comment laughing at you commented at 5/1/2010 4:40:00 AM:

And Kat, there are also those people who are so blind they think a little paint and make-up will transform a nothing into a something. A park bench does not a city make. The bridge isn't going to make one either. What you will have is a painted bridge in a town full of poorly drained storm ditches that can be view from your car as it rattles down the streets full of cracks and potholes.

The comparison of Columbus to Chattanooga is absurd to begin with, and must be the Downtown Darlings desperate last-ditch effort to make this sound like something other than a really stupid idea.

Chattanooga has Lookout Mtn., it has a world class aquarium, it has battlefields, it also has a major transportation artery running through it, and this one is the most important: it has an economy.

Columbus on the other hand has a handful of old homes, no battlefields other than the ones never used, no scenery other than dirt road scrub, leadership that won't lead, leadership that can only come up with peanut-headed ideas like blowing a wad of money on a park-bench bridge to nowhere, and lets not forget the ragged-out infrastructure. Columbus wants you to come down to the bench-bridge and have a hotdog.

Poor confused Kat, industry doesn't come to Columbus because we don't have a painted bridge. It doesn't come here because they can see we've made no sane efforts to do anything worthy of drawing them. We are a monkey with its hand out begging for a banana. Given the civic leaders brawling in the the halls, the BOS acting a fool like they always do, and the overall raggedness of the town: I wouldn't come here either.

Here, have a banana.


Article Comment Kat commented at 5/1/2010 9:00:00 AM:

poor laughing at you- maybe you should leave Columbus since it's obvious to all that you just want to complain about everything that is "wrong" with this fair city. My question to you would be -"and what have you done to help?"- except complain! I don't for a minute think the bridge will bring industry to Columbus-but you have to start somewhere....and you need an OPEN mind...not the short sighted,closed minded,dim wit "good ole boys" attitude you seem to have.
Chattanooga was not even the town I was referring to ---had you done any research on the subjuct you would know that the list of river cities that have developed their downtown areas, taking advantage of their lacations on a river bank, is extensive. Do some research before you show your stupidty.


Article Comment brandon commented at 5/1/2010 9:13:00 AM:

Kat's right. people care about parks and recreation. I would love to see the bridge fixed. i've lived in a lot of towns and cities and you can the tell difference in the ones that pay attention to things like parks and recreation and the ones that don't. improve these areas and you'll improve the city.


Article Comment WHY? commented at 5/2/2010 6:19:00 AM:

Why would anyone want to be in downtown Columbus? Exactly what are all the great things that we can do there? River(skeeter)Walk? Pretty lame......


Article Comment laughing at you commented at 5/2/2010 9:31:00 PM:

Hey Kat, I just wanted to check with you to get your permission to complain about the city ignoring a ditch problem that resulted in my house being flooded, yet again. Is it alright with you?

While the Downtown Darlings are planning on ways to waste money, I can't even get this retarded town to send a crew out to unclog a ditch that is the main source of drainage below me. I went out (and you thought I didn't attempt to help) and attempted to clear the pipe, but once I uncovered it (and yes, I said uncovered as you couldn't even see the pipe at all) I found it was packed full of debris. So much for drainage.

And before you ask, I called the city a week ago about this problem, and not only did they never return my call, they didn't bother to show up on site either.

But money for a bench bridge we have, right?

Meanwhile back at the house, the water entered the carport room, yet again, and soaked the wood, yet again. The water was up to the rims on my car, and the ditch was flowing backwards, yet again, to flood the back yard and deposit all the crap the local pigs throw in the ditch into my yard, yet again. The entire yard was underwater, yet again, and the new decking was underwater, yet again.

So how about it Kat, is it ok if I complain about this one, or should I accentuate the positive and be thankful the house didn't float off?

Dying for your insight.


Article Comment Former resident commented at 5/3/2010 4:25:00 PM:

And where will the pedestrian bridge go? To the industrial park? Or one of the famous hotels on the island? Unless money is put up for developing the island, the bridge is a waste. Columbus is on the fast track to being another ghost town.


Article Comment wow commented at 5/6/2010 1:34:00 PM:

I really feel for the people who are trying to do things to improve Columbus. It's like no matter what they do, other residents have to go and ruin it. Laughing at you, do you know how much money the tours of those "old homes" bring in every year between hotels, gas, food, and shopping? I've seen the numbers. You'd be pretty surprised. Very few cities have so many antebellum homes like Columbus. Mostly because we have all of those unused battlefields. Columbus has amazing potential. However, that's not really my point. The old bridge is an historical asset. If nothing is done to preserve it, it will continue to rot away. Fixing up that bridge would be just like fixing up a beautiful antebellum home or the Tennessee Williams house. You do it because if you don't, you lose it. The city has a chance to take advantage of this huge grant (that can only be used for this bridge), or it can pass up a good opportunity. This bridge is part of Columbus's history. It deserves to be saved also.


Article Comment laughing at you commented at 5/8/2010 6:54:00 AM:

And you are of the opinion the "old homes" thing is a windfall? Maybe you've never lived somewhere else that had a real economy. The homes thing really isn't that big a deal. Maybe here it is, but overall, it isn't. And that it is only once a year also diminishes it. It's ok, but it isn't the all that and a bag of chips.

And do you know why we have all those unused battlefields you mentioned? And do you know where they are? Just wondering.

You know what they call people who keep everything they ever had? Another just wondering.

Save your bridge. And when it turns out to help nothing, and down the road the city is pouring more money into the money pit it will become the older it gets, you'll understand then.

I've got an old cat that has been around Columbus for over 14 years now. How much money will the city spend on her?


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