COLUMBIA — The idea of demolishing and replacing the pedestrian overpass over North Providence Road caught the Columbia Housing Authority off guard, but its director and board of commissioners say they’re open to seeing what GetAbout Columbia has in mind.
The housing authority built the overpass in 1975 and has always owned it. Although GetAbout Columbia manager Ted Curtis said the idea of replacing it has been around for about two years, housing authority officials said at a meeting of commissioners last week that they were surprised by a Missourian story about the project.
"The report to the City Council implied that they had already decided to go ahead with the project. I had met with Ted Curtis about a year ago, but we had talked about the bridge in general terms of what were the best ways to improve pedestrian access across Providence," said Phil Steinhaus, CEO of the housing authority.
Curtis, however, said he approached the authority about the project about a year and a half ago, when plans were first discussed. The new overpass would be funded with part of the $22 million federal grant that GetAbout Columbia received in 2005 for projects designed to promote walking and biking.
Curtis defended the project. "It is certainly important that this be done," he said. "We'll need to get the engineer together with CHA and (Douglass High) School to talk about the concepts and constraints."
It will take about a month and a half to get an engineer on board to design the project, Curtis said. Once plans are drafted, he said, he plans to contact the housing authority to discuss the next steps.
Housing authority officials aren’t entirely opposed to the concept. "I believe that we need to see the new plan first before we decide this is not a good plan," said Marvin Kinney, chair of the board of commissioners of the Columbia Housing Authority.
The overpass cost $95,000 to build in 1975; that would be about $410,000 today. Demolishing that bridge and building a new one would cost about $1 million, Curtis has told the Missourian.
Kinney said it’s a timely issue.
"One of the statistics that is alarming is the fact that there's been so many people getting hit in this area. The overpass, if done right, can be helpful and it can be useful," he said.
The existing overpass is seldom used and has long been criticized as ugly, inaccessible and intimidating. Commissioner Genie Rogers, however, said she doesn’t believe a new Providence overpass would be used heavily either.
"It's hard to reroute people, walking up steps, steep ramps, or something that's going to be out of the way," Rogers said. "I just have my concerns, when there's an alternative of just dashing across the street. "
Rogers said she doesn't see how the bridge could be useful in its current location because it doesn't empty into any high-traffic areas to which people typically walk. By contrast, she said, the MU bridge over College Avenue and the Stephens College bridges over College and Broadway are examples of how walkways over busy streets can be useful and attractive. Many students, she noted, use these bridges because they empty into dining halls and other important parts of the campuses.
"They have enforced usage," Rogers said. "We can't enforce usage; we can't put a cop down there on the street all the time."
Another obstacle at the North Providence site is the fence that Douglass High School put around its property after the overpass was built. An option discussed in the meeting was the possibility of building a new overpass farther north on Providence, closer to Hickman High School.