WACO, Texas – The City of Waco held a virtual groundbreaking for the Suspension Bridge renovation project Thursday, but the project was supposed to start much earlier.
After accepting a bid in December to start the project in February, the city got an unwelcome surprise.
“Once we opened bids, we discovered local market conditions dictated prices that far exceeded our budget,” says Tom Balk, the city’s project manager. “It kind of initiated some tough decisions and some creative funding ideas about how to approach this project.”
The city decided to allocate money from other projects into the Suspension Bridge’s renovation, rather than re-opening the bidding.
“In some cases, the right scenario is to re-bid the project, but in this case all three bids kind of confirmed the market condition that we were seeing,” Balk said. “We really didn’t think we’d reap any benefit by re-bidding the project.”
The big reasoning behind the renovations is the safety of the 150-year old bridge, which hasn’t had a comparable facelift since 1914.
For some Baylor students honoring the time-tested tradition of tortilla tossing off the bridge, they were worried when the deck boards below them were shaking with each step they took.
“While I was walking here, it was definitely like, ‘Well, I’m glad they’re gonna renovate it a bit,'” Baylor freshman Tyler Ahrens said. “I didn’t want to fall right through.”
“It looks a little sketchy,” Baylor freshman Sofia Reyes said.
Aside from the boards, the most pressing problem on the bridge are the cables that support it. Upon the bridge’s review in 2016, it showed the cables only had about a decade left in them.
“The surprise finding was that the cables were finally to the point where they had aged and stretched enough that you could put a ticking clock on something critical needed to be done within a ten-year timeframe,” Balk said. “Sometime before 2026, the cable replacement had to happen.”
Even though that drop-dead date is still over five years away, Balk did agree that without the last-minute funding to start the project this month, the renovation would have to have been closer to 2026.
He also agreed that the Suspension Bridge is important for the city because of its posterity and significance.
“It’s become kind of the heart and soul of our culture here,” Balk said. “This is the icon of what Waco’s culture may be.”
He says the bridge will be closed to pedestrians no later than Friday afternoon, and will remain closed until at least April 2022.