A pedestrian bridge over the Animas River, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks and 32nd Street would be nice, said Mayor Melissa Youssef.
But is it the best use of city resources?
The $3.4 million earmarked for the project to connect the northernmost point of the Animas River Trail to Memorial Park could be used to improve safety or accessibility in other parts of the city, Youssef said. City Council asked staff this week to review the bridge proposal, connect with a state agency that provided a grant for the project and explore how else the money could be spent.
Youssef called the pedestrian bridge “overkill.”
“When I saw the picture of what the bridge might look like, it looked like it would be a great amenity for our community,” Youssef said of the proposal to construct a path over the Animas River at 32nd Street in north Durango. “... But we have other safety issues to address on Camino (del Rio) that are even busier. Everyone would like to see (the pedestrian bridge) completed; it’s just a question of when.”
The direction to staff came during a joint study session Tuesday between Durango City Council, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Natural Lands Advisory Board and the Multimodal Advisory Board. City leaders have been planning the northern extension of the Animas River Trail for more than a decade, and the pedestrian bridge has been a part of the design since at least 2016.
The bridge proposal is funded in part by a $1.3 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, lottery revenue the city applied for and was awarded in 2017.
Parks and Recreation proposal The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board sent a memo to City Council and the city manager in March asking “that the city investigate the consequences of either elimination or delay of the bridge from the Animas River Trail north extension project with GOCO.” The memorandum was sent on a split vote, with five people voting for the review of spending and two voting against.
Richard Hoehlein, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, voted against the memorandum. He said in an interview that he’s worried about the precedent the action of reversing a previous decision could set, especially as construction crews are preparing the foundation of the Animas River Trail northern extension.
“If we hadn’t made that prior commitment, I’d be open to say, ‘Let’s chew on this some more,’” Hoehlein said. “I’m confused or uncertain about what do these changes mean for the future in terms of making obligations and sticking with them.”
The memorandum suggests city employees explore what opportunities are available if money for the pedestrian bridge were available for other projects. The city still plans to design the bridge – a project accounted for in the 2019 approved budget – to know exactly how much the project will cost, which would help inform city leaders how much money could be freed up if the bridge is delayed or eliminated, Youssef said.
Hoehlein said he’s worried that if the pedestrian bridge is not constructed, increased pedestrian traffic on the 32nd Street bridge, over the train tracks and across the second busiest city street in Durango could be a dangerous situation. It might seem prudent to save a few millions by not building the bridge, but how will that decision look if someone is killed or severely injured by a vehicle at the intersection? he asked.
There will always be other needs, Hoehlein said. But it is city leaders’ job to plan using information provided by city staff. Although the future is uncertain, Hoehlein expressed confidence in the city’s long-term planning. Others are not, he said.
“There’s a heightened sensibility among some of our board members that the public would see this (bridge) as extravagant or unnecessary,” Hoehlein said. “I think some people are more worried about optics; some are convinced it isn’t necessary; and some people think the prioritizing process that has been used for a while maybe needs to be revisited.”