Providence overpass re-do in the works

Planning has begun on a modern, accessible overpass to replace the 34-year-old structure.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | 2:02 p.m. CST; updated 10:17 a.m. CST, Thursday, February 18, 2010
Douglas McBride, of Columbia, crosses Providence Road between Park Avenue and East Worley Street. Like many pedestrians, he doesn't use the overpass, which does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. "I'm lazy," he said. "I didn't want to climb up steps."

COLUMBIA — Building a pedestrian overpass is like tuning a piano: There's a right way and there's a wrong way, and if it's done the wrong way, folks aren't going to find it very pleasant.

Locals say the overpass over Providence Road between East Ash and East Worley streets is a shining example of the wrong way, and the city of Columbia has made its replacement a priority. Planning and design are under way, Ted Curtis, project manager for  GetAbout Columbia, estimated the new overpass will cost around $1 million and be finished in 2010.


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'A waste of airspace'

Calling it "a prime example of a poor design," Curtis said the overpass hasn't been used because it's ugly, because it's inaccessible to people with disabilities and because folks feel uncomfortable when crossing because they're not easily seen from the road.

"It's a waste of airspace," Curtis said. "The plan is to replace it with something that works."

"Overpasses work well if they're inviting, if they're open and people feel safe on them," Curtis said. The Providence overpass is none of the above, he said.

Commissioned by the Columbia Housing Authority, the footbridge was built in 1975 with about $95,000 — equivalent to about $410,000 today — from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and opened 1975. Nine months after its July opening, the Missourian was already running headlines such as "New overpass: a white elephant?" and, two years later, "Concrete controversy."

Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said the residents of the low-income area frequently cross Providence to pick up basic groceries at the Break Time convenience store and to reach Douglass and Hickman high schools and Douglass Park. The overpass was built to help them cross the thoroughfare safely, Steinhaus said.

Today, the chain-link cage covering the overpass has rusted, litter lines its narrow walkway and random graffiti colors its raw gray sides. Those who try to enter from the sidewalk adjacent to Providence Road in the east are blocked by a chain-link fence across Douglass High School property and on both sides, those pedestrians who manage to enter the walkway are confronted with a dark twist of concrete steps.

Pedestrians, such as Courtney Jordan, said they tend to choose an alternate route. Jordan, 15, strolled across Providence Road a few yards from the overpass on his way home from Douglass High School on Friday. He said he avoided the 34-year-old footbridge because it felt "like it's gonna come down."

Stephanie Jones, 25, and her 5-year-old son, Trevionne Gardener, also cut across Providence Road on Friday afternoon. Jones said she found crossing that busy stretch of Providence easier than using the overpass because she has a bad knee and can't go up the stairs.

Both Jones and Jordan said they'd use a newer, more convenient pedestrian bridge.

Residents walking east on the walkway land inside Douglass High's schoolyard. They then must walk half a block to escape the fenced area and join the main sidewalk.

"I seldom see the overpass being used," Douglass High Principal Brian Gaub said. "It does not appear to be at an ideal location.

"The opinion I've most often heard expressed is that a well-marked crosswalk at an intersection would be more practical," he said.

'A welcome invitation'

It's possible to make a pedestrian overpass folks will enjoy using, Curtis said. He pointed to the popular overpass across College Avenue south of Rollins Street as an example of what he would like the new Providence overpass to be.

The College Avenue overpass cost around $4.2 million and was completed in August 2004. There, a wide network of sweeping ramps and well-placed stairs lead into a wide, covered structure surrounded by airy fenced walls. Like the proposed Providence overpass, it's easily accessed by cyclists, wheelchair users and pedestrians alike.

"The approaches are long and very attractive so it doesn't look like you have this huge climb," Curtis said. "It's open; there's no feeling of being hidden away where you might not be secure.

Curtis said the appealing overpass invites pedestrians to use it and avoid darting across the street below.

Curtis said that appeal was in direct opposition to the situation at the Providence Road overpass, which, despite being one of the first things motorists see when heading downtown or to the campus area, "Says 'this is no-man's land, don't come here' instead of 'this is a welcome invitation, come try it.'"

The plan

Curtis said that a contractor — URS Corp. of St. Louis — has been selected for the Providence project and that preliminary design work will begin in March. The project will not be ready for public comment until this summer, Curtis said.

The bridge is now owned by the Columbia Housing Authority, Steinhaus said. The city will need the approval of the housing authority's board of directors before it can replace the overpass.

Steinhaus said the housing authority would "be happy to explore options with the city about how to improve pedestrian crossings on Providence Road."

Steinhaus also called for more pedestrian crossings throughout the low-income areas between Ash Street and Business Loop 70 and said an improved walkway would be just part of the solution.

"Regardless of how this is redesigned, there needs to be multiple crosswalks and other traffic-calming devices across Providence," Steinhaus said.

The City Council has made the overpass a GetAbout Columbia priority, Curtis said, but the project will still require the council's final approval before construction can begin.

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Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 2:21 p.m.

Agreed that crossing Providence is quite the adventure no matter where you try to cross.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 28, 2009 | 3:08 p.m.

Please post those late-'70s articles. It would be interesting to read what the objections were.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 28, 2009 | 4:09 p.m.

I can't believe Curtis still wants to do that. IT WILL NOT BE USED ANY MORE THAN IT IS NOW!!!! Don't ask kids. Ask people who have lived around here a long time, like Almeta Crayton. She suggested it be torn down a few times when improving it came up. Se certainly has more of a handle on this than Curtis does.

A million dollars would stripe a lot of streets and build a lot of trail. Please don't waste it on this.


(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 28, 2009 | 4:18 p.m.

Is the main reason why it's not used because people don't want to walk a block or two to the overpass? For decades I've seen more people darting through traffic rather than walking a half-block to an intersection.

(Report Comment)
Cullen Breedlove January 28, 2009 | 4:52 p.m.

Why not use the money to cover the hideous library.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 4:57 p.m.

Oh but Mark they are catering to the bike crowd and are going to make it not only bike friendly but A.D.A. friendly as well. A huge plus plus and a win win for that area.

About time we something besides trails and striping out of G.A.C.

Maybe next will be some badly needed sidewalk repair around down town for those who walk all over down there from the parking garages to their places of employment.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 28, 2009 | 5:18 p.m.

Chuck, we've been over this time and again: Most Columbia sidewalks are in fine shape.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 28, 2009 | 5:39 p.m.

Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 4:57 p.m.

Oh but Mark they are catering to the bike crowd and are going to make it not only bike friendly but A.D.A. friendly as well.

Assistant District Attorney friendly? Huh? We gotta do something about that! LOL.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 5:54 p.m.

A.D.A. = Americans with Disabilities.

Ayn Rand you might think they are but the Columbia Disability Advisory Commission(they report to City Council,City Manager and the Mayor directly) in a consensus vote and point of view,a grant study done through GetAboutColumbia and many local advocacy groups such as Services for Independent Living,our local A.D.A. representative and others.

These groups push for more A.D.A. friendly as well as safer sidewalks,cross walks think alot different than you or it would not be a constant agenda item on the Columbia Disability Advisory Commission's meeting agenda monthly for discussion.

You know these things first hand when you are a attendant of these types of meetings monthly.

I think all of those highly thought of organizations out vote you and your opinions on this issue.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 28, 2009 | 7:34 p.m.

Chuck, if the sidewalks were in such poor shape, some group would have sued by now to force the city and/or landowners to fix them. But that hasn't happened, probably because they realize that the facts wouldn't back them up. Plus, the council no doubt looks at the ghost towns that are Columbia's sidewalks outside of downtown and realizes that it's difficult to justify spending more taxpayer money on something that's barely used.

As for GetAbout, give me a break. This organization loves to waste money. Witness the ridiculous sharrows. Of course they're going to try to make a case for anything that will help justify their existence.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 2:56 a.m.

Why sue and waste vast money when you can keep it in the public eye through news paper articles,new medias and through local advocacy groups which can all be done practically for free.

Why must one spend vast amounts of money and court time when all of the above methods work quite well and show your citizens that their inner government is not working as it should.

It is called letting the system work for itself as it should be in the first place. That is what advocacy is all about.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 29, 2009 | 4:52 a.m.

Chuck sez:
"Oh but Mark they are catering to the bike crowd and are going to make it not only bike friendly but A.D.A. friendly as well. A huge plus plus and a win win for that area."

ADA friendly is a legal requirement for anything like this. Bike friendly is generally ADA friendly, as they both cover human powered wheeled vehicles.

The people that dart across Providence don't want to go out of their way to use the crosswalk or pedestrian bridge. I'd think that was so obvious as to not require explanation. Building a new bridge will not change this.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 5:15 a.m.

Mark Foecking let's just face the fact in all of this mess.

You and others when ever anything comes up that I approve of that is more disabled and non disabled friendly you have serious issues with just because I back these proposals and feel they are great ideas. That is the only reason you protest.

You and others constantly do this with out even realizing what you are doing because you are at all issues that I support.

You are not actually against the issue itself or you would focus on the issue only but instead you continually work to discredit my backing of proposals that actually help citizens in general.

Get used to my supporting actual projects in this city that are more disabled and non disabled friendly that do more than cater to your "select group of people" it is not going to change my mind nor my support nor my advocacy convictions ever.

Obviously City Council thinks it is a great idea for this replacement being it is part of "First Ward Improvement Plans" they are working on.

I'll be looking to see you on TV at that City Council Meeting standing up to speak and lodge your formal protest on public television in the coming future.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking January 29, 2009 | 5:24 a.m.

Chuck, my opposition to this has nothing to do with it being disability friendly or not. It has to do with wasting a million dollars on something that will hardly be used.

There are a couple of people that live around here that drive powered wheelchairs. They cross Providence at the crosswalks. It's the kids from Douglass, and the projects, that run across the street, and there are a lot more of them than wheelchair users. The idea, as Curtis is saying, is to get more of the kids to use the bridge, and that is silly. They won't.


(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand January 29, 2009 | 7:15 a.m.

"Why sue and waste vast money when you can keep it in the public eye through news paper articles,new medias and through local advocacy groups which can all be done practically for free."

Because the latter doesn't appear to be accomplishing anything in terms of achieving your goals. Where are the results of all of these years of supposed effort?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 10:00 a.m.

Well Mark that waits to be seen doesn't it. Nobody knows for sure how it will be after the project is completed now do they. You can only speculate and obviously the powers that be think citizens crying like you do are wrong.

As I said I look forward to you on live TV at City Council when this comes up soon. I look forward to all of those who are against it to be on TV too.

I do not think any of you have the nerve to go protest this on live TV.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 29, 2009 | 11:52 a.m.

Will you have the nerve to go speak in favor of it? I have raised questions about some of the Get About projects in front of the council myself.

(Report Comment)
Michael Scott January 29, 2009 | 12:40 p.m.

$1 million on a project that will see little to no use does not seem like the best management of funds (although the Get About Columbia program seems to waste money with everything they do).

The logic just doesn't add up. The city doesn't spend $1 million to upgrade roadways thare are not used hoping that more traffic will appear. Instead let's focus on things that are used and figure out how to make them more efficient (did someone say pave the MKT Trail?!?)

On a side note, I can't stand seeing all of the engineering and construction contracts with this project go to out of town companies. How about supporting some local businesses?

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 12:55 p.m.

John Schultz I'm not the one out there protesting the project nor crying over it on a community bulletin board now am I John Schultz unlike Mark and others who are up in arms and bursting a blood vessels about it.

I'm in favor of it and as such when the public meeting about is announced I just might be there in support due to your political friends often times seem to not like these kinds of projects that are A.D.A. friendly if it does not benefit them directly.

(Report Comment)

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