It’s an eyesore. It’s a monstrosity. It’s a huge waste of money.
Those were only some of the recurring buzzwords used to describe the proposed pedestrian bridge crossing the Animas River at 32nd Street during the first public meeting about the project since renderings were released last month.
“I am completely against that bridge ... and I think it’s absolutely a waste of Parks and Rec’s money,” said Durango resident Florence Paillard. “I think it’s useless ... and those funds could be used a lot better.”
Last month, a rough rendering of the estimated $4.1 million pedestrian bridge over the Animas River at 32nd Street was released, but city officials have maintained it was not an accurate depiction of the structure expected to be built.
On Wednesday, final renderings were made public, and though it may take a keen eye, city officials say there are differences from the rough draft released in January.
“One of the things we realized is a simple picture can really get people upset,” Parks and Recreation Director Cathy Metz said. “Tonight, we’d like to set the record straight about what this bridge is going to look like.”
The new images, Metz said, show the color of the three-part bridge as a rusty steel instead of orange. And the first part of the bridge over the Animas River is now more similar to other bridges that cross the river in other parts of town.
Animas River Trail bridges
Several bridges help make up the Animas River Trail, but none cross roads; rather, they cross the Animas River and ditches. Here is a look at existing bridges, from south to north.
For the section that crosses the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks, Metz said the depiction now shows glass sides and a roof, making it totally enclosed so smoke and coal embers from passing locomotives don’t affect trail users.
And, she said the final portion of the bridge, which crosses 32nd Street, now shows mesh on its sides so people can’t throw things off the structure and hit cars.
At a public hearing Wednesday at the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting, which drew about 100 people, those who spoke against the project didn’t care about renderings. Instead, their opposition stemmed from the price of the bridge and whether it is needed.
“It looks like it’s just going to be a total monstrosity, no offense to the designer,” said Rachel Curran, who lives near 32nd Street. “I’m all for safety, but I would like to hear about other options.”
City officials say all other options were analyzed, but complications with topography, crossing the railroad tracks and cost have left the project as proposed the best option to link to the Animas River Trail north.
La Plata County resident Wendy Rice questioned whether the bridge is actually needed, given the price, saying pedestrians can and have safely crossed the river on the existing driving bridge.
“What’s wrong with doing nothing?” she said. “What would happen if we did nothing?”
Despite a volley of public opposition, there was a strong show of support from those in favor of the bridge, who touted the need to safely connect the Animas River Trail.
Andy Corra, who owns 4Corners Riversports, said he raised a child in the neighborhood and can attest to the dangers of the current crossing of 32nd Street, which is considered the second busiest city street in Durango.
On top of safety concerns, Corra said it has been the long-established vision of the city to have the entire Animas River Trail connected, without having to cross roads.
“It’s $4 million to connect the spine of the Animas River Trail,” Corra said.
Durango resident Doug Lyon said the Animas River Trail is the “single most popular recreational amenity in Durango,” and as such, proper funding should be directed to make it the best and safest experience possible.
“The Animas River Trail is used 365 days a year, and it’s a fabulous amenity that really puts Durango on the map,” he said. “This is a controversial issue, so what? There’s controversy all the time.”
Ellen Stein, a Durango resident, also said the current crossing is not safe. She took issue that the construction of the bridge is being derailed by public fervor, criticizing The Durango Herald’s coverage of the multimillion-dollar project.
“Are you kidding me? There are so many more important things going on in our community,” she said. “We have the money. It’s in the budget. Let’s move forward.”
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, which has already recommended to City Council to approve the project twice over the years, did not take any formal action Wednesday.
Instead, Metz said the intent of the meeting was to allow for questions and comment from the public. The project is currently out to bid, with proposals from contractors due by March 24.
Then, it’s up to City Council to decide whether to green-light the project.
The next public hearing about the bridge is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Durango City Hall at City Council’s regular meeting.