City needs more than ‘who knows’ for Science Hill bridge

Johnson City Press • Jul 25, 2018 at 8:15 AM

The word “maybe” is just a sweaty, limp handshake.

That’s effectively what Johnson City officials have awarded the city’s Board of Education and parents concerned about the removal of the Science Hill High School footbridge over John Exum Parkway.

As we reported in Tuesday’s edition, dozens turned out to watch as the 57-year-old landmark largely was reduced to rubble Monday night. The pedestrian bridge’s rickety condition necessitated its removal, as city officials were increasingly concerned about the safety of students using it to cross to and from Science Hill.

Countless students had made that trek since the school opened in 1961, allowing them to safely cross one of Johnson City’s busiest roads. People also saw it as a landmark — a gateway of sorts with views of the mountains behind it. So when the demolition plan was announced in May, both the school board and parents favored replacing the bridge. Parents were not impressed with the idea of adding crosswalks to the five-lane parkway and expanding drop-off locations on the campus.

Neither were we. As we stated in May, we would hate to see students playing Frogger in John Exum and traffic bogging down near one of the city’s most-congested areas at the parkway’s intersection with North Roan Street and Liberty Bell Boulevard.

But city officials had not budgeted for a replacement, which carries an estimated $1.3 million price tag. Mayor David Tomita called the prospects of spending that amount “insane.”

In response, Science Hill’s Parent Teacher Student Association started a “Save the iconic SHHS bridge,” garnering thousands of signatures. The Johnson City Council of PTAs urged the City Commission and the school board to “immediately commit” to rebuilding the bridge while providing a highly visible crosswalk and increased police presence during drop-off and pick-up times for the interim.

We agree. The city needs a clear path for replacing the footbridge. It won’t happen in time for the coming school year that begins Aug. 6, but the city has plenty of time to work a plan into the next budget.

So far, the best the city has had to offer is “who knows.”

As Press Staff Writer Zach Vance reported last week, City Manager Pete Peterson encouraged residents not to take the demolition as the end of a landmark associated with Science Hill.

“It’s just the first step in the redevelopment. Our first priority is to make sure people are safe, so that’s what we’re addressing right now,” Peterson said. “Who knows, we might end up with another landmark up there that makes everyone forget about the bridge.”

Clearly — based on the petition, the PTA council’s position and the turnout Monday for the demolition — there’s a larger expectation out there.

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