I’m always amazed at how events can take on symbolism beyond their immediate importance. Our Broad Avenue Bridge is a wonderful example. A couple of years ago, the mighty Flint River had eroded the structure to the point of closure to all traffic; vehicle and pedestrian. A plan was formulated to demolish the bridge and replace it with a safer model. That sounds reasonable. Nobody wants to see an active bridge collapse right before our eyes.
Years before, as people and money moved away from the downtown area, many of our long-standing buildings were demolished or reworked beyond repair, and rarely in a way that improved their dignity. So it’s no surprise that a group of citizens have united to save the Broad Avenue Bridge. They want to see it made safe for pedestrian traffic, and make it a part of our reemergence in Downtown Albany.
I have to agree that if restored as such, it would be an interesting use of our history to our own benefit, economically. I can see tourists taking a stroll over the Flint at sundown, enjoying the view of our lovely natural surroundings and the revitalized downtown district. That is, I can see it until they get to the other side. Then, sadly, I see them looking around, not knowing where to go next, then coming back a bit faster over the bridge, with a very personal understanding of the two Albany’s; west and east. As things are today, that is not a tourist draw; it is a repellant, but, a bit more on that later.
The top concern should be safety. Right behind that are the costs. We have to have a good understanding of our ROI, if we are going to save a bridge to beautify our city that for so long, none of us has thought twice about. We do not have the money to spend on dreams and memories alone. Our future requires smart, practical decisions. The state has extended the timeline on taking bids for the gargantuan deconstruction/rebuilding project, but it’s hard to see how a little more time will change the facts that a new bridge would last three times as long as a restored bridge. I wish I still drove my 1969 Plymouth Satellite, but that’s not the practical thing to drive today.
Back to that tourist walk; If we are going to pay about the same to keep our old bridge a little longer, instead of a newer, albeit boring bridge, then we have to ask ourselves the obvious question; what are we willing to spend to make the east side of the Flint at Broad, an attractive place to walk to? To put it in line with downtown, so that the stroll is a seamless billboard for our Albany would take even more millions. I’m all for the concept, but again, do we have the money? No.
The Flint has drawn our attention to our most glaring problem. We must find a way to bridge the downtown development mantra across both sides of the waterway. Make as serious a push to get East Albany more on par with West Albany, and the Broad Avenue Walking Bridge will not only appeal to our nostalgic heart, but our economic heartbeat as well.