By Meredith Pratt | Staff Writer, Video by Sarah Gill | Broadcast Reporter
Waco Parks and Recreation officials are now estimating that the Waco suspension bridge reconstruction project will be pushed back until April and will take at least 18 months to complete.
The large-scale reconstruction project originally was set to begin in late November or early December 2019, with updates to the bridge’s deck and 100-year-old cables set as the central focus of the reconstruction effort.
Tom Balk, senior park planner for the city of Waco, is one of the key advocates and organizers of the suspension bridge project.
“Things have been put on hold,” Balk said. “But the need is still there.”
Last year, the city of Waco brought in bridge contractors from around the state to put in bids for the construction.
However, Balk said the city was thrown a “curveball” when the estimated price of construction they received from contractors was less than half of the actual cost of renovations.
“We have $5.4 million available for this project… that should have more than done what we needed to accomplish the bids that we received,” Balk said. “We’re as surprised as anyone.”
The cost of construction is now being estimated at over $12 million, and Balk said he believes there are several reasons for this large disparity.
One main contributor Balk cites is the ‘construction climate’ in Waco which has created “limited availability of local contractors.” The current work being done on I-35 has stretched human and material resources thin.
The city of Waco entertained the idea of pushing back the project until I-35 construction ends, but decided this was not practical, as material costs continue to grow.
The Waco suspension bridge features a unique feature — a wooden deck suspended by cables. Waco park planners like Balk have worked with construction engineers to plan the addition of new components to the bridge that will prevent future corrosion. These design elements will require specific materials not readily accessible.
“Even for contractors that are familiar with working on bridges, an antique suspension bridge of this nature is not a common project for any company,” Balk said. “All those factors probably conspired to create a much more expensive project than what was anticipated.”
The bridge, built in 1870, has been a part of many Baylor student’s experiences in Waco.
Frisco junior Geneava Moore serves as a community leader in South Russell and frequently encourages her residents to go out and explore beyond campus. She said that she is thankful the bridge will remain open, particularly for the freshmen who can continue to make memories at the bridge.
“I actually went tortilla tossing for the first time right before break with a friend, and she’d been trying to get me to do it since freshman year,” Moore said.
Until a solution can be made to address the obstacles currently impending construction, the bridge will remain open to the public. The city of Waco will launch a PR campaign when construction is green-lighted.
“I’m committed to this project,” Balk said. “We’re going to make it happen.”