Report: Science Hill pedestrian bridge 'rapidly deteriorating'

Zach Vance • Updated May 14, 2018 at 9:21 PM

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola told Johnson City commissioners at Monday night’s agenda review meeting that the Science Hill pedestrian bridge is “rapidly deteriorating,” based on a structural analysis completed by LDA Engineering. 

“Their conclusion was, yes, the steps are OK, but the bridge deck that goes over the road is rapidly deteriorating,” Pindzola said. 

The bridge is in such bad shape, Pindzola said, that the consultants recommended the bridge be closed. 

The cost to fix the bridge was estimated at $1.3 million, a price city commissioners were not comfortable paying considering a recent pedestrian count of students using the bridge. 

In the mornings, Pindzola said a little over 100 students were walking from the Heritage Baptist Church parking lot, where they were likely dropped off, across the bridge to school, while about 118 students used it in the afternoons. 

“It would be insanity to spend that,” Mayor David Tomita said.

“If you replaced the bridge deck, then you have to make it handicap accessible, which it’s not today because of the steps. The accessibility has to go to the road system underneath the bridge itself,” Pindzola said. 

“That is the difficulty with construction. You can’t just put a deck on top. You have to make it handicap accessible under today’s regulations.” 

Pindzola told commissioners that “do nothing” was not an option before presenting three alternatives: spend $1.3 to completely rebuild the bridge and make it handicap accessible; tear it down and walk away; or phase the construction out over a number of years.

However, Tomita proposed a fourth option: get rid of the bridge’s steps and making it a gateway sign for Science Hill. 

“There’s some history to it. I just can’t see spending that type of money, even over a period of time,” Tomita said. 

If the commission decided to reconstruct the bridge over a number of years, Pindzola said his department could try to tighten up the railings, which are loose, according to the consultant’s report.

“It should be (closed) in their estimation, but what we’d do is go in and see if we could tighten up the rails to make it stable enough for utilization ... I do know that the rails move up top. I know there is a concern by the consultant that looked at it,” Pindzola said. 

Commissioners also briefly discussed the possibility of constructing a crosswalk connecting the church with the school, with Pindzola suggesting one near Liberty Bell Boulevard and Tomita suggesting one be located farther south.

Although he didn’t specify when the bridge was last repaired, Pindzola said it has been rehabbed at least twice. 

“The second time we simply cut it because it was just not repairable. So we cut it, and if you’re out there you can see the deck that crosses the road is much narrower than the steps. It used to be the same (width),” he said. 

City Manager Pete Peterson suggested the commission close the bridge at the end of this current school year and then talk with the Johnson City Board of Education about how to proceed. Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl indicated that school officials were in favor of keeping the bridge. 

“There are much cheaper ways with dealing with this than spending $1.3 million, whether you do it at once or do it over 10 years,” Peterson said. 

If it is closed, Commissioner Jenny Brock said the school system could require all drop-offs and pick-ups occur on school property, eliminating the potential danger of students crossing John Exum Parkway. 

The City Commission plans to discuss the bridge during their budget session with the school board next Monday. 


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