Engineer argues Fox Point footbridge can be repaired

Expert says he finds no evidence that new load standards must be met

Oct. 13, 2011

Fox Point - A push to preserve and repair a venerable footbridge on the village's east side reached a new height this week.

More than 50 residents attended a Village Board meeting Tuesday to hear a presentation from Conor Nelan, an engineer with Fort Atkinson-based Cold Spring Design. Nelan, a professional hired by residents Jack and Cissy Bryson and James and Mary Connelly, asserted that the 292-foot long footbridge, connecting Bridge and Barnett lanes, can be repaired without being removed.

Applause rang out throughout the board room when Nelan finished his presentation.

Recommendations at odds

Nelan's proposal contrasts with recommendations from two firms hired by the village: structural design firm Ayers Associates and engineering firm Graef. The firms offered various proposals that included removing and replacing the aging structure, believed to have been at the site for at least 100 years. Such significant construction work, however, would necessitate removing several hundred mature trees - an issue that has drawn controversy throughout the nearly two-year discussion.

Nelan provided a list of cost estimates to address existing issues with the footbridge. The work, which would include a number of structural and cosmetic repairs, would cost $712,745, based on Nelan's estimate, and would come in about $800,000 less than any other proposal floated to date.

"We can fix the bridge," Nelan said. "We can get it back to its original intent."

Fixing the bridge in place might require the removal of some of the towering trees in the area, but Nelan said he estimated that as many as 380 trees would be saved by putting little to no construction equipment in the area.

Bridge need not meet code?

The footbridge is not in compliance with current load standards - an issue since the future of the footbridge was first discussed. But Nelan said he believes meeting current codes is not necessary.

"There are numerous footbridges in Wisconsin which have been repaired over the years with no intention of having them support new loading requirements," he said. "Nowhere can I find that it's necessary to bring the bridge up to code."

If the bridge were to be repaired, based on current load standards, it would need to support 296,820 pounds, or an estimated 1,484 people.

"Clearly, the Fox Point pedestrian bridge in question does not see this type of use and should not have to be upgraded to support the new loads," Nelan said. "To take the bridge ... and bring it to the standard would be cost prohibitive."

Nelan said he consulted with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on the issue and was not given a clear response.

"That's a hot potato right now," he said. "It's not a bridge of theirs, so they're not saying anything."

Decision won't be rushed

Village President Mike West said deliberations on the footbridge will continue with the end goal of making a decision once all avenues have been carefully weighed.

"My colleagues and I will do something because we have to do something," West said. "There are a multitude of options, and we're going as fast we can, collectively."

Several residents offered comments - some impassioned - on the issue.

Getting choked up at the thought of drastically changing the character of the area, Cissy Bryson again sent out a plea not to remove a large swath of trees. She said it would take three generations to bring the area back to its existing state.

"These are bad economic times," Bryson said. "Why should we spend a huge amount of money on a new bridge? That extra money could go toward some of the real essential needs, including the (aging) swimming pool, which serves a lot more people."

Mary Connelly said she has no regrets about helping fund another study of the footbridge.

"This has been an incredible learning experience," she said. "This has spurred the village to dig deeper, so I think it was well worth it."

Further discussion is anticipated at the next Village Board meeting in November.

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