Updated: City to unveil public bridge design process today

The announcement throws open a discussion that has been proceeding behind the scenes since at least December 2015.

Donate
Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday that the city will offer the public a chance to submit design concepts for the new pedestrian bridge to be built over the Arkansas River at approximately 29th Street. A plan to rehabilitate and add a second deck to the existing pedestrian bridge, shown above, was scrapped after it was determined that the proposed reconstruction was impractical and cost-prohibitive . DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Editor’s Note: The city of Tulsa is will announce a public process today for soliciting design proposals for the pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River at 29th Street and Riverside Drive.

Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, briefly explained the idea to the River Parks Authority’s board of trustees last week.

“It’s very much a thing where we are asking for both public suggestions and public designs from individual citizens as well as design firms,” Doctor said.

HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburg Associates will also be involved in the process, Doctor said.

The companies have worked on A Gathering Place for Tulsa park and the city’s infrastructure projects in and around the park.

Proposals submitted by the public will be reviewed by a panel of local officials.

Here is a previously published story of what led the city to engage the public in the process and what work has been done on the bridge design so far.

This story was first published March 12.

Here is the original story

After working more than a year to select a design for the new pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River, city officials still haven’t made up their minds.

So they want your help.

Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday that the city is working to create a public process by which people can submit design proposals.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion with engineers and a few designers,” Bynum said. “We have had a lot of internal discussions, but I think the internal process needs to be opened up, and we’ll be making an announcement in that regard here in about a week.”

The city initially planned to rehabilitate the 113-year-old bridge and add a second deck in time for the opening of A Gathering Place for Tulsa park in early 2018. But that idea was scrapped in late 2014 after an inspection uncovered deficiencies in the bridge that make the planned reconstruction impractical and cost-prohibitive.

“The existing bridge just cannot be salvaged,” said city Engineering Services Director Paul Zachary. “We analyzed the existing piers and the steel trusses. Both did not meet current standards and are in poor condition.

“A new pedestrian bridge will allow us to get all user groups, pedestrians and bicycle, together and have a design life of 75-plus years.”

City officials have been working with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which is building A Gathering Place For Tulsa, on plans for a new bridge that would at once be iconic, affordable and compatible with the park.

It hasn’t always been easy. The city has come up with six major bridge styles ranging in cost from $14.9 million to $30.4 million, but none of the concepts have garnered unanimous support.

“We cannot look at designs in a vacuum,” Bynum said. “We have to think about how they are going to relate to the greatest public park gift in the history of the United States that this bridge is going to run right into.”

After taking office in December, Bynum held meetings with City Engineer Paul Zachary, GKFF’s Jeff Stava, City Councilor Phil Lakin and other officials to look over the proposed bridge designs.

Representatives from HNTB and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates also participated in the meetings.

HNTB is doing engineering work for A Gathering Place and has also done work for the city on the pedestrian bridge, Riverside Drive and other public infrastructure near the park. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is the landscape architecture firm that designed A Gathering Place.

    Pedestrian Bridge Designs Considered by The City

In January, eight local officials, including Bynum, Stava, Lakin and River Parks Executive Director Matt Meyer flew to Omaha, Neb., to look at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Bynum said the trip brought home the importance of setting in selecting a bridge style.

“The bridge in Omaha is a great example of a bridge that looks absolutely beautiful on a website, in a vacuum, but if it were next to the Gathering Place, it would look ridiculous,” Bynum said. “It looks great where it is in Omaha because it fits into the surroundings.

“That really alerted me that you have to think as much about the surrounding environment as you do the bridge itself.”

City officials, including Mayor G.T. Bynum, City Council Phil Lakin and City Engineer Paul Zachary, visited the Bob Kerrey Bridge in Omaha, Neb., earlier this year. The bridge connects Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa. City officials have been working with the George Kaiser Family Foundation to determine what type of pedestrian bridge should be built to replace the pedestrian bridge that spanned the Arkansas River at approximately 29th Street and Riverside Drive for more than 110 years. Photo provided by HNTB

Bynum said his review of possible bridge designs has driven home another point — he doesn’t trust his own aesthetic judgment, at least not when it comes to selecting the design for a public structure that will be a part of the community for 100 years.

“I think we have way too many things in Tulsa that someone probably thought looked really nice when they built it, but now you look at it and think, ‘How on earth was that ever allowed to be built?'” Bynum said. “And I certainly don’t want us to run into that situation with something like this, which I think has the opportunity and the ability to be a really iconic structure in our city and to represent what Tulsa is in the 21st century.

Stava said GKFF is excited to work with the selection committee and the public to ensure that an “iconographic bridge” is selected to lay at the doorstep of A Gathering Place.

“With this incredible park, we should have an incredible bridge across the Arkansas River,” Stava said.

The city has $27.5 million budgeted for the pedestrian bridge project, $3 million of which has been set aside for contingency. The three major funding sources are the Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements program ($7.7 million); a federal TIGER grant ($4.7 million); and Vision Tulsa sales tax ($15 million).

The city has spent approximately $675,000 on the project so far, including  $240,000 for construction plans for the pedestrian bridge that will cross Riverside Drive.

Bynum said the city plans to stick to its budget.

“Unless somebody can come to the table with another funding source that they are willing to add onto that, we have a very clearly defined budget that we have to work within,” the mayor said.

The existing steel-and-concrete pedestrian bridge is about 1,400 feet long and was built around 1904 to service a railroad line across the river at 29th Street and Riverside Drive. Visitors to A Gathering Place for Tulsa will be able to access the new pedestrian bridge from the park, but not when the park opens.

A Gathering Place is scheduled to be completed at the end of this year. No opening date has been announced, but it will be well before the pedestrian bridge is completed.

City officials say it will take two and a half years to complete the pedestrian bridge once a design is selected, with work likely to coincide with the major overhaul of the Zink Dam. The design work on the dam is expected to begin in June and take about one year.

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kevin Canfield

Senior Staff Writer

Kevin has been working the Tulsa city hall and county beat for nearly a decade. He hails from a newspaper family and Okies enjoy the Connecticut native's accent. In newspapers, Kevin's done everything from copy editing to covering high school football. If you see him around town, make sure and ask him about the time he went to the O.J. Simpson trial or when he was an extra in a zombie movie. Contact him at 918-645-5452 or kevin@readfrontier.com
Donate