What exactly does it take to get a bridge built? Later this week we will be celebrating the opening of the new Franklin Road Bridge and I thought I would offer some insights into all that goes into getting such a thing constructed.
Everything has its time—even the mightiest mountain will one day be reduced to rubble. So it is with bridges—no matter how well built, a bridge won’t last forever. In the case of the Franklin Road Bridge, that period of time was just over 80 years. The bridge opened in 1936, built by our very own Roanoke Bridge Company who built bridges all across the Nation. This bridge, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal Public Works Act, itself replaced an even earlier bridge built in 1879 which remained in service until 1934. The cost of the bridge in 1936 was just under $200,000. Over the years, the increasing numbers of vehicles and trips—at last count the bridge was carrying nearly 10,000 vehicles per day—had taken their toll. In spite of numerous repairs, the condition of the bridge continued to degrade to a point that further repairs made little economic sense. It was time for a replacement.
Engineering and Design, Making It Ours
Engineering and design of the new bridge began a couple of years prior to closure of the existing bridge. From its inception, there was recognition of the significance of the bridge as a vital connector to the neighborhood in the Old Southwest. This led to a design that protected viewsheds of the surrounding mountains and incorporated elements such as decorative walls and lighting. In addition to the bridge structure and these aesthetic elements, the Old Southwest Neighborhood, Inc. used a grant from the City to secure the services of artist Tucker Mara. Panels created by the artist and placed on columns at the ends of the bridge highlight the architectural heritage of the neighborhood.
Paying for It
As you can imagine, costs to design and build a bridge have increased a bit since 1936! The cost of the new bridge was slightly more than $14 million to construct. The bridge used a variety of sources of funding, including State and local funds. The majority of the cost is funded by debt issued by the City of Roanoke, which will be paid off over the ensuing decades. Most large construction projects in the City use similar methods of funding. The next bridge to be replaced—the Main Street Bridge in the Wasena neighborhood—is projected to cost at least $22 million. It’s a good thing we need only replace such structures every 80 or so years!
It’s been a hassle, construction always is. The old bridge may be missed by some, but the new bridge will carry traffic right up to the next century, and it will do so in a way that adds aesthetically to the surrounding neighborhoods and compliments the beauty of the surrounding mountains. Everyone’s patience and hard work has been appreciated. Now it’s time to cut a ribbon and get traffic flowing again!
-- Bob Cowell