November 21, 2013 11:04:11 AM
When the idea of renovating the Old Highway 82 Bridge first emerged, critics referred to it as Columbus' version of the infamous Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere."
Over time, support for the renovation grew, however. Last month, the $2.2 million project was completed and stands as an example of what can happen when the city, county and state work together to achieve a common goal. The renovated bridge is quickly becoming a popular attraction -- especially as a backdrop for photos --and enhances two other successful public projects -- the Riverwalk and the Columbus Soccer Complex. Given their location, the bridge, Riverwalk and the soccer complex can be considered as elements of one big project, each complementing the other.
What remains is the issue first raised by critics of the bridge renovation. It is a bridge to what? As it stands, the west end of the bridge leads to the Island, a chunk of land that has seen no development at all.
Earlier this year, efforts to answer that question began with a group of city, county and Island land-owners forming a committee to consider what might be done with the property. The focus now appears to be on the 5.7 acres that lie immediately west of the bridge, a parcel of land once owned by the county but has since been given to the city, presumably to promote the development. City workers hope to clear that land of debris, the first step in what figures to be a long process.
The Island committee has solicited help from the Golden Triangle Development Link. It's a good move, given the Link's expertise and track record in development projects.
We urge officials to proceed with caution on plans to develop this portion of the Island. Any plans should be mindful of costs -- as with the bridge renovation, the lion's share of the cost should be funded through available grant money. Beyond that, whatever is built there should complement what has already been built in the adjoining land east of the Tombigbee. Finally, the "somewhere" at the west end of the bridge should be something our residents are inclined to use. In other words, it needs to be practical and sustainable, an expansion of Riverside Park, for example.
Bridges are built to connect things.
The east end of the Old Highway 82 Bridge leads to the Riverwalk. The west end, that "Bridge to Nowhere," should lead to a destination that also appeals to the interests and needs of the community.
As it was with the bridge, there are critics of the idea of developing the Island.
We hope the ideas that emerge for that property will turn those critics into advocates.