Jim Peters on preserving the University Ave Bridge

Frequent contributor Jim Peters shares his thoughts on the University Ave Bridge, an issue on the city council agenda tomorrow night:

The problem with following the meanderings of the mind is that the mind is relatively complex, although some of my friends say I do not have to worry about that, but it is and it is hard to pin down specific interests. One specific interest I do not have to worry about coming to grips with is the Textile Memorial Bridge. That is the bridge slated to be torn down by the city when the new bridge over the river is completed. A few years ago, apparently, at least this is what I have been told, a similiar bridge in Wisconsin, I believe, fell into a river while congested with traffic. The death toll was fairly high. Anyway, the Textile Memorial Bridge is apparently of the same type of design and it was decided that it should come down. There are a few problems with that:

1. The Textile Memorial Bridge just underwent a one million dollar overhaul to solidify it. That overhaul should have made the bridge solid and able to stand as a pedestrian walkway, no cars, just pedestrians and bicycle riders.

2. The Textile Memorial Bridge has one of the best views of the river in the city.

3. The Textile Memorial Bridge has, to the best of my knowledge, never shown a tendency to fall down.

4. The Textile Memorial Bridge is a unique pedestrian walkway from the East Campus of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell to the North Campus at University Avenue.

5. The Textile Memorial Bridge was memorialized for sixteen brave servicemen who died in World War II and were students at Lowell Technological Institute.

6. The Textile Memorial Bridge is in a unique position to benefit the University of Massachusetts at Lowell by providing a solid pedestrian walkway for students, a solid connection to one of Lowell’s greatest 20th. Century writers, Jack Kerouac who used it as a backdrop in “Dr. Sax” and I believe in “The Town and the City.” The watermelon man, featured in the first book mentioned, was a character who crosses that bridge, and, perhaps best of all, it is a chance for the relatively tight quarters inherited from Lowell State College and the Lowell Technological Institute to be a bit less restrictive by using the bridge as a place for students to gather, and fundraisers to be held.

7. The Textile Bridge could become a mecca to students of all shapes, sizes, and characteristics to sit in the sun on an unused bridge which could be inundated with gardens, shops, and stores which sell University merchandise to people who want to see a usable bridge made more useful by the interaction of the University and the City.

On Tuesday night, at the Council meeting, there is a motion put forth by, I believe, Councilor Rita Mercier to let the bridge stand. I believe that that would be in the best interests of the city, which will show that it is important to maintain a healthy memorial to Jack Kerouac’s work, and the University, which would hopefully take over the bridge and put gardens and shops and bike trails across the bridge in order to increase its usefulness to the student population that uses the bridge currently and could use it in myriad ways. I envision a student population using the bridge for a great many things in thirty years and never having heard of me, or the members of the organization working so diligently to save the bridge like George DeLuca, and Mike Wurm. It is not important that we be remembered, but it is important that Jack Kerouac and the sixteen servicemen be remembered. Lowell has the unique opportunity to save itself for future generations. This includes the bridge and the (out of the National Park confines) mill buildngs and smokestacks. It is our responsibility to make sure that that happens.

Therefore, I request that anyone interested in saving the bridge, and anyone interested in the bridge’s history attend Tuesday night’s Council meeting. It is not important that any of us be remembered, as I said, but it is important that the bridge be saved. And that could happen on Tuesday. I also request that this request be placed in the Blog both Monday and Tuesday. We have to save the salvageable in Lowell. It is our right, it is our responsibility, and it is our destiny.

10 Responses to Jim Peters on preserving the University Ave Bridge

  1. Righty Bulger says:

    “3. The Textile Memorial Bridge has, to the best of my knowledge, never shown a tendency to fall down.”

    I’m pretty sure that bridge in Wisconsin hadn’t shown any prior tendencies to fall down, either.

    The most comical aspect of this nonsense is to hear people with no history of running successful businesses wax poetic about the economic opportunities of a foot bridge that will cater only to college students. It would be even funnier, except one of the folks advocating sausage carts as economic development on this bridge happens to be a newly elected city councilor. Seriously Marty Lorrey? A couple of dog and sausage carts are going to provide the tax revenue to keep that thing going?

    Or shall we take the author’s advice and add shops to the mix? You know, the same shops that could just as easily have been built and opened on solid land on either side of the river to take advantage of the millions these college kids are spending throughout the rest of the town, right? There’s a reason you don’t see the same owner of a business on university ave for longer than a few years. There’s no money in it!

    If you want to save the bridge for historical purposes, knock yourselves out as long as you find a sugar daddy to foot the bill. Don’t stick it on the taxpayers or the students who have already seen their tuition and student fees go through the roof.

  2. Michelle Annis says:

    There’s a lot of foot traffic on the bridge now and I think it would serve us well to maintain it as a pedestrian/bicyclist way, not only to preserve the view and the history, but to lessen the congestion of the new bridge.

  3. Joe S says:

    I’m not sure the City would be the responsible party for removing the bridge, but if it is it would save that money by transferring the ownership responsibilities to the University as-is.

    The University would then be responsible for upgrading and maintaining the bridge, but would have the benefit of using it for its own purposes.

  4. Kim S. says:

    Does anyone know if the cost of demolition and scrap value of the bridge were part of the bid award? Has a cost been placed on keeping the bridge in place?

  5. Jim says:

    Hmm, maybe I got a different part of University Ave than Righty, but Dunkin, Suppa’s & Egg Roll Cafe have all been there a pretty long time.

  6. George DeLuca says:

    I appeared before the City Council last night to support Councilor Rita Mercier’s motion for the City Manager to look at the issues associated with keeping the bridge. I’ve had correspondence with Chancellor Meehan who has updated the UML position. I forwarded this to each member of the Council and at Councilor Mercier’s request to the City Manager as well.

    I also provided a proposal for what it would take to complete the feasibility study in a costs vs. benefits format. The Council discussion was positive and the City Manager seemed totally in sinq, even stating that he met with Chancellor Meehan last Friday to discuss the issues.

    Follow up is key here. Its clear to me at this point that UML cannot proceed alone and just take ownership of the bridge. It must be a partnership with the City and perhaps with LHNP for the reasons stated in my proposal. There will need to be a connection with the delegation to overcome and legal obstacles and start the process of identifying state and federal funding sources to pay for the stabilization and ultimate improvements that it would take to repurpose the bridge as Textile Memorial Bridge Park.

    Kim, yes the cost of demo and salvage are included in the general contract. And no a definitive cost has not been placed on the work needed to stabilize the bridge as the existing conditions study that led to the recent $1.5 million in shoring up the bridge is not public knowledge as far as I know. However, I believe that the info will be forthcoming as a result of my proposal so that a complete proforma style budget can be established for the decision makers. There’s still time to get everything done if a City led team assembles to initiate a full court press.

    Stay tuned.

  7. Gary Francis says:

    I believe that the contractor working on the new bridge was given the old bridge for “scrap value”. If that is the case (which I recall being in the contract when I saw it) then he would have to be the one it would have to be purchased from….and I’m sure he won’t sell it for the same price…he will undoubtly (and is due) a profit on it.

  8. George DeLuca says:

    Gary outlines a perfectly reasonable assessment and raises an important issue. Without getting into a commiseration of what “should have happened” between 2000 and 2006 (the planning and design phases), one could consider any loss now a penalty for how the issues associated with the bridges were handled. Unfortunately, cool heads did not prevail and due process did not take place as a result. Traces of hard feelings can still be felt, as you will hear in the tone of some of the discussion if you listen closely.

    We were also just beginning to develop our approach to sustainability back then, which very soon will be the fabric of our Master Plan. So, lets just say we know more now than we did then.

    But be that as it may, the new bridge project was classified an emergency project, so the Textile Memorial Bridge became the sacrifice that was made to expedite the funding allocations back then. As factions battled over whether the Kerouac reference was important enough to save the bridge, apparently no one knew that it was a Veteran’s Memorial, and, the potential for its repurposing and reuse was not considered or discussed.

    Councilor Rita Mercier’s motion not only sheds lights, but she also proposed a healing process. Councilor Mercier should be congratulated for the intent, significance and power of her motion, as she subtly but eloquently clarified the above points in her presentation.

    Ironically, as it stands now, the Kerouac reference is among the least important reasons for saving the bridge. Culturally, the Kerouac reference is overshadowed by his own French Canadian heritage relative to the history of the area, and, by the fact that the bridge was initially used to transport millworkers to and from their jobs across the river.

    Not many know that the bridge was built to support a trolley, horse and buggys and pedestrians. To date, I haven’t been able to find any pictures of the bridge in the turn of the 20th centuray time period … but would like to see one that shows it resplendent in its original glory and grandeur.

    Councilor Mercier’s motion offers one last chance to review and act on issues that must be considered and decided before executing the current plan to the point where turning back is not possible. Whatever is decided, there’s still time to resolve the matter as a City. There’s still time to come together one last time so that such regrets do not fester and linger going forward. That’s the process we’re in now.

    Once the cars disappear from the bridge, my sense is that the bridge will be capable of holding pedestrians with little to no additional shoring needed. A professoinal evaluation will reveal whether or not this is true. But consider that we are about to throw away the $1.5 million that’s been spent, which could alternatively be considered an investment towards another great respite away from the hustle and bustle and rough and tumble nature of our fair City.

    My ultimate hope is that we reveal a half million dollar plus surplus in cash when the negotiations with the contractor are completed, that can be used to finalize the bridge stabilization and preservation process. From that point, funding sources need to be identified to complete the repurposing.

    I’m in agreement that no UML or City money should be used towards the project whether it be to complete the preservation process, or further enhance the bridge towards the goal of it becoming a pedestrian passage, park and maybe even a trolley crossing once again.

    Lowellians have shown great spirit throughout history. If we put the right team on the field, great things can happen. I recommend that the City, UML, LHNP and the delegation hold a meeting to address the issues associated with costs versus benefits. My sense is that such a meeting will lead to the kickoff of a search for preservation grants, arts & cultural grants, historical grants, etc, private donations, and the like, in pursuit of the vision of “Textile Memorial Bridge Park”, a mission to add another jewel in the Riverwalk necklace that will benefit current and future generations of Lowell, and for all to enjoy.

    Time is of the essence.

  9. Righty Bulger says:

    Suppa’s and Egg Roll cafe have barely been in business long enough to be out of diapers. Tell me how great a success story they are when they’ve lasted longer than any of the 5 predecessors in each location over the past twenty years. Brinngint them into the discussion as example of long term economic vision only highlights how pie in the sky the save the bridge crowd is. As I said, save it with your own money.

  10. Righty Bulger says:

    Gary please tell these folks how realistic it is to think a few thousand college kids are going to help foot the bill for that bridge. While you’re at it please inform economic development councilor Lorrey too.