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$10.8 million price tag? Springfield officials present ‘next steps’ for Jefferson Avenue Footbridge

Sometimes dubbed "the Eiffel Tower of Springfield, Missouri," the 122-year-old Jefferson Avenue Footbridge remained closed to the public due to safety concerns on May 16, 2024 — as it has been since March 1, 2016.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Sometimes dubbed "the Eiffel Tower of Springfield, Missouri," the 122-year-old Jefferson Avenue Footbridge remained closed to the public due to safety concerns on May 16, 2024 — as it has been since March 1, 2016.

The Jefferson Avenue Footbridge on Springfield’s historic Commercial Street has been closed since 2016. The move came after the city deemed the 122-year-old structure unsafe. Now, with an infusion of funding from the state of Missouri, the bridge could be restored by fall of next year.

“Time is of the essence,” the Commerical Club of Springfield told its membership earlier this week. The beloved Jefferson Avenue Footbridge on Commercial Street needs rehabilitation so it can reopen to the public for the first time in more than eight years. The bridge arcs over roughly a dozen railroad tracks connecting historic C-Street with north city homes in neighborhoods like Woodland Heights.

It got minor upgrades back in 2002, but now the footbridge needs a much more extensive overhaul. Current plans call for fixing the steel structure, plus adding new elements like lighting... and elevators for people living with disabilities.

Back in 2021, the bridge rehab was priced at around $3.2 million. Now, city officials are saying the project price tag has increased due to factors like inflation and the cost of anti-corrosive paint.

“That cheapest option was $8.5 million; the more expensive option is $10.8 million," said Dan Smith, Springfield director of public works.

He said the city has four options for repairing the bridge. The least expensive would include removing a portion of what’s called the “approach,” at the bridge plaza on Commercial Street, as well as the use of a simple overcoat of paint for anti-corrosion. But that overcoat would need to be replaced in just five to 10 years.

Smith explained, “We have options ranging from rehabilitating the footbridge across the tracks, removing the approach across the footbridge plaza. And with just the overcoat paint system, which will not last as long — like five to 10 years — to the option of rehabilitating the full bridge, including the piece across the footbridge plaza, doing the full paint system where we remove the old paint and put fresh paint on there, which has a much longer life 20 to 25 years.”

A city spokesperson said that combining state and local funding, the city has roughly $8.4 million to spend on the project. A bill set to go before City Council for a public hearing on Monday, May 20 would allow the city to bond out the difference between $8.4 million and any higher cost for the project that City Council might approve.

The meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Police-Fire Training Center off West Battlefield. If council approves the bill later this month, it would authorize special obligation bonds up to $26 million. The bonds would pay for renovation projects including the footbridge, historic city hall and Springfield Art Museum.

On Thursday, the city called community meetings to go over next steps for the bridge with the public. At one meeting, attended mainly by C-Street insiders, folks expressed a preference for the most costly solution. Attendees said cheaper options seemed like kicking the can down the road... and might cost taxpayers more over the long term.

“I'm really excited about about the option that feels like everybody's choice," said Christine Schilling, an artist with longstanding ties to historic C-Street. And that is: Get ‘er done, do the best job for the bridge, do the best job for the city for the long run. No little piecemeal stuff.”

After the city put out a call for bids recently, officials extended the deadline twice before receiving a bid from local contractor Branco Enterprises.

Next Tuesday, May 21, Springfield City Council is expected to hear another update on the footbridge renovation from city public works staff. The bid discussion is part of the weekly council workshop set for 11:30 a.m. at the city’s Busch Building downtown.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.