By Mallory Harris | Reporter
The Waco Suspension Bridge will be undergoing construction for a rehabilitation project, the city announced Monday. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday virtually through the City of Waco’s Facebook page and local news channel.
Along with the 150th anniversary of the bridge’s original construction, the suspension bridge is a landmark to the Waco community. By hosting community gatherings and public recreation as well as large tourism events and intimate gatherings, the bridge is a significant location in the cultural center of downtown Waco.
“The project is slated to last 18 to 24 months. The project includes widespread updates to the foundations, towers, decking and railings,” the announcement said. “Gibson and Associates, of Balch Springs, Texas, submitted a $12.4 million bid proposal and was selected as the contractor.”
The suspension bridge, which was built in 1870, stood as a local milestone and an engineering feat of its time period. it was the first bridge crossing the Brazos River and the first community-driven civic improvement project.
Tom Balk, senior park planner for the City of Waco, previously explained how the bridge’s history plays a critical part in keeping it accessible to the public. In its early days, the bridge was used to move cattle over the Brazos River — as there were no roads or railroads — and became a popular destination. As innovation came along, cars were photographed on the bridge until the 1970’s when only pedestrian traffic was allowed.
Significant areas around the bridge, such as Indian Spring Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Park, will be closed during the renovation.
“Portions of the Waco Riverwalk on both sides of the bridge will also be impacted, as well as traffic lanes along University Parks Drive and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard,” the release said. “While areas surrounding the project site will be affected, the river will remain accessible for watercraft and leisure activities.”
Every 30 years the Waco community assesses the bridge in search of ways to better preserve it, as it stands to be over 100 years old, Balk said. With this process, structural engineers or historical architecture specialists have been brought in to find tiny issues that can be fixed and allow the bridge to stand at its best.
The project was originally planned to begin in November 2019, but has been pushed back since the announcement. The bridge has been open for birthday parties, prom photos and other activities this past year. As the “construction climate” has changed, Waco’s resources and contractors have been spread thin and stands as the main reason for the delay, Balk said.
One of the main activities the suspension bridge hosts is tortilla tossing, where a tortilla is tossed off the bridge and onto a concrete platform in the middle of the Brazos River. While being very popular within the Baylor community, some students also use the bridge to find silence and relax away from campus. Ennis junior Lauren Hinson shared how the bridge has impacted her experience at Baylor.
“The bridge is typically really peaceful over there. It’s far enough away from all the noise and cars and just everything going on. You can just chill out there, and on a nice day it’s really relaxing and lets you chill out from everything that’s going on,” Hinson said.