City can­cels bridge pro­ject

Coun­cil cites ris­ing costs, will turn down $1M grant

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Con­cerned about ris­ing costs, city coun­cil on Mon­day killed a long­planned pro­ject to build a pedes­trian and bi­cy­cle bridge over White Clay Creek.

“I’d love to do this. I’d love to have it. I’m pro bike routes,” Coun­cil­man Mark More­head said. “I don’t think we can af­ford it.”

More­head was joined by coun­cil­men Luke Chap­man, Jerry Clifton and Chris Hamilton in vot­ing against the bridge. Only Mayor Polly Sierer and Coun­cil­man Stu Markham sup­ported the pro­ject, while Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace was ab­sent.

The bridge, named for for­mer Parks and Recre­ation Di­rec­tor Charles Emer­son, was in­tended to be part of a broader plan to im­prove the area sur­round­ing the for­mer Cur­tis Pa­per Mill. The 12-foot-wide, pre­fab­ri­cated tress bridge would have been built just to the west of the ve­hic­u­lar Pa­per Mill Road bridge over the creek and con­nected Ker­shaw Park with the new Cur­tis Mill Park.

Parks and Recre­ation Di­rec­tor Joe Spadafino said the cur­rent bridge has a nar­row side­walk that is un­safe for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists. Build­ing a sep­a­rate bridge would pro­vide safer pas­sage and con­nect Ne­wark’s down­town with neigh­bor­hoods and trails north of the creek.

The bridge has been dis­cussed since 2011, and in 2015, city of­fi­cials an­nounced they had se­cured $1 mil­lion in fed­eral and state grants. At the time, of­fi­cials said those grants would cover the com­plete cost of the pro­ject.

How­ever, af­ter more en­gi­neer­ing work and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies were com­pleted, the es­ti­mated cost in­creased to $1.75 mil­lion. The city has other grant ap­pli­ca­tions pend­ing but would have been re­spon­si­ble for the ex­tra $750,000 if it did not re­ceive the ad­di­tional grants or other state funds.

Act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man asked coun­cil Mon­day for au­tho­riza­tion to en­ter into a con­tract with the Delaware De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to be­gin the de­sign phase of the pro­ject. The city has yet to spend any money on the pro­ject. How­ever, had Cole­man signed the con­tract and the city pulled out later, it would have been re­spon­si­ble for re­fund­ing any grant money spent.

State Sen. David Sokola, State Rep. Paul Baum­bach and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the ad­vo­cacy group BikeNe­wark all at­tended the meet­ing to ask coun­cil to con­tinue its sup­port of the bridge. Both state leg­is­la­tors said they would con­trib­ute some of their Com­mu­nity Trans­porta­tion Fund money to the pro­ject but could not com­mit to a spe­cific amount.

Su­san Grasso, co-chair of BikeNe­wark, said she avoids bi­cy­cling to ar­eas north of the creek be­cause she feels the bridge is not safe for cy­cling.

“The bridge is an im­por­tant link to Ne­wark be­tween res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods to the north and Ne­wark’s busi­ness dis­trict and UD’s cam­pus to the south,” Grasso said. “It would be very ap­peal­ing to those of us in­ter­ested in us­ing our bikes for ev­ery­day liv­ing but are con­cerned about rid­ing too close to traf­fic.”

How­ever, those com­ments could not al­lay coun­cil’s fears about the cost.

“I would love to see this bridge get built,” Clifton said. “My con­cern is from the fi­nanc­ing side and the li­a­bil­ity to the tax­pay­ers.”

Hamilton said he is con­cerned that the pro­ject could con­tinue to rise in cost.

“This is a very ex­pen­sive pro­ject. We have our in­fra­struc­ture fall­ing apart,” Hamilton said. “I have to, as a leg­is­la­tor, choose be­tween a bike path and fix­ing bro­ken sewer lines. That’s a chal­lenge be­cause one is very vis­i­ble, it’s like woo hoo, and the other is un­der­ground and no­body re­ally cares about it un­til their sewer breaks.”

Markham said he hates to give up $1 mil­lion in grant fund­ing and noted it could af­fect the city’s abil­ity to ob­tain fu­ture grant fund­ing.

“They’ll turn around and say, ‘You guys gave up $1 mil­lion, why should we give you some­thing for your next pro­ject when you couldn’t pull the trig­ger on this?’,” Markham said.

On Tues­day, Sierer and Baum­bach said they were dis­ap­pointed the pro­ject was can­celed.

“We’ve cut off our noses to spite our faces,” Sierer said, also ar­gu­ing that re­fus­ing the grant money will im­pact fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties. “That will come back to haunt us.”

The bridge would have played an im­por­tant role in Ne­wark’s trail net­work, she said. Some cy­clists have told her they’ve been clipped by ve­hi­cles’ mir­rors on the bridge.

“In my trav­els in meet­ing con­stituents around the city, I’ve got­ten no ob­jec­tion to this pro­ject,” she said.

Baum­bach said that to bi­cy­cle across the cur­rent bridge, “you have to put your life on the line,” and build­ing a ded­i­cated span for cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans would have been the per fect so­lu­tion.

“I don’t get it,” he said, adding that he’s puz­zled as to why coun­cil mem­bers didn’t sup­port the pro­ject. “I don’t know who they’re talking to. The res­i­dents I talk to love the city’s trail sys­tem.”

“They had $1 mil­lion handed to them and they said no,” he added. “Ev­ery­one was there ready to be a part­ner, ex­cept city coun­cil.”

More­head said he’s aware some res­i­dents wanted the bridge, but be­lieves the city’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion re­quires tough choices.

“I’ve had a num­ber of pos­i­tive com­ments [about the bridge], but the fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions are over­whelm­ing,” he said.

More­head com­pared it to go­ing out for a nice meal — it’s a nice thing to do, but only if you can af­ford it.

“We need to pull back in many ar­eas, and un­for­tu­nately, this is one,” he said.

SUB­MIT­TED IM­AGE

An artist’s ren­der­ing shows a pedes­trian/bi­cy­cle bridge pro­posed to be built over White Clay Creek next to Pa­per Mill Road. Coun­cil can­celed the pro­ject Mon­day.

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Pro­po­nents of the Charles Emer­son Bridge say the cur­rent Pa­per Mill Road bridge is un­safe for pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists.

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