27 July 2006
The Finley Bridge
It's named for Dr. G. E. Finley, who practiced medicine in Deep Deuce for over half a century, near the north end of it; two years ago, when it was still the Walnut Avenue Bridge, I made some reference to its closing.
Now that it's been restored and reopened, The Old Downtown Guy reveals the story of the tug-of-war between city officials, looking to save money, and preservationists, looking to save as much of the original bridge as possible.
Worst-case scenario? Ripping the bridge out entirely:
There had been about $1.2M in funds from a 1989 bond election set aside for a new bridge, but for some reason, Bricktown developer Jim Brewer was promoting the idea of replacing the bridge with a street, and had persuaded then-Public Works Director Paul Brum to support the idea. They insisted that the railroads were going to abandon the tracks and that there was no need for the grade separated crossing that the bridge provided. In fact, there had been no discussions with the railroads regarding future plans for the tracks in question.
Railroad matters, by law, must go before the Corporation Commission, and they flatly rejected the plan: the grade separation would have to be maintained. (This is the second time in a week I've had to say something positive about the Corp Comm. Hmmm.)
Incidentally, if you exit I-235 southbound at 6th Street, the offramp becomes Walnut Avenue: it's a straight shot right into Bricktown. The bridge has three lanes, two northbound, one southbound. Life just got a whole lot simpler for the folks buying into those new planned developments west of 235.
Posted at 7:46 AM to City Scene
I'm just glad they re-opened it finally. It's nice, although I'm not sure why you have two lanes going out and only one going in. Don't we want more coming into Bricktown than leaving? Maybe it's just me.
By the way, are they putting lights on that bridge? It looked like there was some wiring along the rails that could be for lighting.
In any case, it's a good thing for all that it re-opened.
People stream into Bricktown more or less constantly; if there's a Major Event, though, everybody tends to leave at once, so two lanes outbound makes a certain amount of sense.
My little note to the good 'ol DAILY OKLAHOMAN and a few others sent July 18, 2006:
News comes through back channels that there'll be a big ceremony Friday, July 21 at 9:30 AM at the southern end of the Walnut Street Bridge in Bricktown to celebrate its reopening. Apparently, however, those who fought their guts out against overwhelming odds to preserve and/or redevelop that structure not only won't be on the podium, getting just recognition for their courage, vision and tenacity -- but haven't even been officially invited.
Look, instead, for others -- most probably folks who didn't do the work, didn't take the rough ride, didn't stand on principle and even obstructed the way of those who did -- to hog the spotlight, their memories of how it all happened "strangely altered" by the passage of time.
Sure, this is Oklahoma, the "somethin' for nuthin' state" (speaking as a native Oklahoman, born and bred...) -- but, just once, shouldn't the real heroes, the real visionaries, those who fought the fight, did the work, spent their time and resources and suffered the derision of everybody from the majorities of the OKC Planning Commission and city council to the Bricktown Association to the DAILY OKLAHOMAN in this case be honored for their labor and sacrifice -- and not those who did otherwise? Shouldn't honorable Oklahomans insist? Do we really want to live in a state where "truth is forever on the scaffold and evil [in this case, "naked, who-gives-a-durn-about-tomorrow-if-we-can-get-our-pockets-full-today greed"] forever on the throne?"
Those of whom I speak, the heroes of the Walnut Bridge, spanning the old Rock Island freight yard in Bricktown, are OKC Architect Randy Floyd, her partner/husband, businessman Michael Smith and OKC attorney Tom Daniel. Yes, there were probably others deserving of credit, but these three carried the battle and won the day. They researched the matter, learned that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission -- and NOT the OKC Council -- has authority over changes at railroad crossings -- and presented a fine technical case based on public safety to the Commission and its administrative court, which denied the effort to replace the historic bridge with a new at-grade rail crossing.
Like most bridges in Oklahoma, the old Walnut Bridge had never been adequately maintained. It was a mess. Ultimately, most of it had to be rebuilt, but that rebuilding was done in the style of the old bridge, accurately replicating its look and marvelous, protected pedestrian walkways and stairways. Most important, because the bridge has been recreated there's still an overpass for the important, former Rock Island interchange line in Bricktown -- and not an inherently dangerous, new at-grade crossing. (This is a lesson that should not be lost on OKC leaders as ODOT attempts to destroy the beautiful old underpasses flanking Union Station in favor of newly exclusive at-grade crossings on Robinson and Walker at the foot of Capital Hill.)
The thanks of Oklahomans who care about accountable government, public safety and honorable treatment of historic assets are clearly, clearly due these three. That thanks should not be denied. It certainly should not go to those who fought them and their work all the way.