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Willmar's pedestrian bridge in need of TLC

WILLMAR--The paint is wearing away, graffiti mars the surface and the approaches to the bridge look a bit like a jungle. The pedestrian bridge at Sixth Street Southeast, built in 1944, seems like it needs a little attention and the Willmar Public...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneThe Willmar Public Works and Public Safety Committee this week discussed the need for cleanup and maintenance on the Sixth street Southeast pedestrian bridge. The bridge has overgrown plants and grass near the walkways.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune The Willmar Public Works and Public Safety Committee this week discussed the need for cleanup and maintenance on the Sixth street Southeast pedestrian bridge. The bridge has overgrown plants and grass near the walkways.

WILLMAR-The paint is wearing away, graffiti mars the surface and the approaches to the bridge look a bit like a jungle. The pedestrian bridge at Sixth Street Southeast, built in 1944, seems like it needs a little attention and the Willmar Public Works and Public Safety Committee discussed possible options at its meeting Tuesday.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation inspects the bridge annually and the 2015 report said the bridge is not structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which means it is safe to use.

"Currently, it is OK, it's not unusable," Councilman Tim Johnson said.

The bridge report does say the bridge's superstructure and substructure are in fair condition, while the concrete deck is in poor condition.

"Fifteen percent of it is unsound," Willmar Public Works Director Sean Christensen said of the deck.

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The MnDOT bridge report also looked at the paint and found 90 percent of it unsound.

"It could definitely use a paint job," Christensen said.

Christensen said there are options for the bridge if the council decides it wants to do something more beyond a paint job and minimal maintenance. Options include to close the bridge to traffic, remove it completely or repair/reconstruct it in place.

While Christensen said there is not much traffic on the bridge, those who do use it would probably be against its closure or removal. Councilman Steve Ahmann said it could also be route for people to Robbins Island.

"If people on that side of town want to get there, this is the obvious route," Ahmann said.

One of the concerns Christensen has about any major rehabilitation projects on the bridge is the fact of who is under it. The bridge crosses over the BNSF railyard and the city would need permission from the railroad to do any work on the bridge, because crews would need to be based on railroad land. The lack of maintenance on the bridge is in part caused by the nearness of the railroad, Christensen said.

"They really frown on accessing their property for anything. Anything we do will require the railroad's permission. It's a big deal, it really is," Christensen said, adding the railroad would probably prefer the bridge not be there at all.

However, its placement over the railroad is one of the charms of the bridge. Young and old alike are known to walk across the bridge just to watch the train traffic.

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"It's a nice observation point," Ahmann said.

Before making any major decisions on the bridge's future, Christensen said he would like to get a structural engineer out to take a look and see what needs to be done. Ahmann also said he would like to speak with people who use it, for their opinions on the bridge and what they feel it needs.

The committee asked Christensen to come back with more information about how much it would cost to bring an engineer in and costs of some of the other options. Christensen said there are funding programs available for bridge repairs, though he hasn't done much research on them to see if they would help with a pedestrian bridge.

There did seem to be consensus that at the very least a cleanup is needed. That could even mean killing all the grass at the accesses and replacing it with landscape rock, which would be lower maintenance.

"My concern is the way it looks. It's pretty disgusting," Ahmann said.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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