Village Challenges Ravine Bridge Users to Aid in Replacement
Fox Point prepared to pay up to half if lovers of footbridge can complete campaign for the balance.
The fate of the Bridge Ravine Footbridge has been unclear since it was closed in October, but now the village appears to have settled on a replacement plan – one that includes more than a half-million dollars in private funding.
According to Village Manager Susan Robertson, the village has budgeted $550,000 for replacement of the bridge, approximately half the estimated cost. The other half would have to come from private donations, and the village, based on the recommendation of its attorney, will likely not undertake a campaign to raise it.
The bridge connects Barnett Lane and Bridge Lane.
In a recent letter to village officials, Village Attorney Eric Larson strongly advised against the village involving itself in a private fundraising effort.
"Many taxpayers may be more likely to decline the request, if it comes from the village directly, than they would if the request came from a third party," Larson wrote. "Technically, it is probably possible for the Village to engage in fundraising directly, but it is fraught with complications and I recommend against it."
Larson suggested that the Fox Point Foundation, a non-governmental, private organization, could lead fundraising efforts. Larson's recommendations and options for funding a new bridge will be discussed at the next Village Board meeting on Jan. 11.
Robertson said that the village had elected to pay half the replacement cost because the bridge is a feature that many residents enjoy but is not a critical piece of infrastructure.
"There is a strong sense on this Village Board that we want to have the bridge," Roberston said Tuesday. "But in these austere times, they also felt that the whole cost should not be born by all taxpayers.
"The bridge is not a necessity, but it is an amenity that many people enjoy. Not everyone uses it, though; there are probably village residents who don't even know it's there."
Robertson said that the village hadn't decided on the exact mechanism for funding the public portion of the cost, "although it will likely be borrowing," she said. "But we have put it in the capital budget, and it can probably stay there for a couple of years while we see how other fundraising efforts take hold."
The $550,000 in village money would cover half the estimated cost of only the least expensive option for a new bridge, one of several simple prefabricated designs. Private fundraising could allow for more money to be raised for a more aesthetic design.
"Expenditures can be made that might appear to be excessive or unnecessary if the same expenditure would be made by the government," Larson wrote.
The Village Board received a review of the bridge from GRAEF-USA Inc., a structural engineering firm, in April 2009 that warned deterioration of the bridge had reached a point where it was no longer safe to carry more than eight people at a time. In response, the village posted "no loitering" signs at either end of the span.
GRAEF was consulted again this year after reports that a gathering estimated at 80 people had been seen holding a candlelight vigil on the bridge. GRAEF recommended that if the village could not control the numbers of people occupying the bridge, it should be closed.
The firm's engineers pointed out that the structural load capacity of the aging bridge was so low that even a heavy snowfall or high winds could exceed it and bring about its collapse. Repairing or rebuilding the existing structure was not recommended.
So it will be up to residents to decide whether a footbridge at the site is something they want badly enough to drum up more than half a million dollars. But it is possible that some help could come from beyond the village borders.
Don Zucker is a Milwaukee resident who used to work in Fox Point and spent a lot of time taking photographs of the bridge.
"I love this bridge, and the view," he said. "To tear the bridge down and replace it with nothing would be very sad."