Thursday, April 13, 2017

Function Over Form

Pop quiz: What does the Congress Avenue bridge in Oshkosh look like?  I don't mean the four lanes of pavement you drive on, I mean the structure underneath.  What does it look like?  How about the Main Street bridge or the Wisconsin Avenue bridge.  What color are they?

Unless you are a boater, you probably wouldn't know, because everyone else only drives on top of the bridges.  You may notice that one has different street light designs or that the width of the sidewalks may be more narrow or wider than the other.  But for the most part, our view of the bridges is four lanes of concrete with a drawbridge deck in the middle.

Now, the Oshkosh Common Council is grappling with what the proposed new Jackson/Oregon Street bridge should look like.  Their first determination is whether or not there should be an entirely new bridge, or just replacement of old parts of the current bridge.  If a new bridge is built, it will then fall upon the City to maintain it for the rest of its life (a cost-savings measure for the state DOT).  But if the old bridge is just rehabbed, the State will continue to foot the bill for its future upkeep.

If the Council goes with the entirely new bridge--taking on all future maintenance costs--the next decision is whether to build another new drawbridge or a "flyover" bridge that would be high enough over the water to no longer necessitate opening the bridge for boat traffic underneath.  While that may sound awesome, it is also more expensive--as the approaches on both ends would also have to be rebuilt and raised as well--making access to some businesses on the north end of the bridge more difficult.

And then, the Council will have to decide how "nice" to make the bridge look.  Mayor Steve Cummings warned that if the DOT is allowed to design the bridge we will get a "Plain Jane, functional bridge"--but any amenities that the Council might want to add--like room for the Riverwalk underneath, decorative lighting and special paint colors and such--would be done at a cost exclusively to Oshkosh taxpayers.

So we, those taxpayers, should also be thinking about what that bridge should "look like".  Me, I don't mind "Plain Jane and functional"--since the main use of the Jackson/Oregon Street bridge is to get my vehicle from one side of the river to the other--not to impress me with "architectural lines" or how it "plays against the water".  And since I would be the one paying for the "amenities" that I would hardly ever see, it's not really worth the cost.  Sort of like the "fish paintings" under the new Butte des Morts Causeway that you can only see from a boat.

And if you think "I'll just leave it up to the Council to decide", keep in mind, several of the current members wanted to paint the new railroad trestle bridge (at city taxpayer cost) because they thought it was "ugly"--even though painting it would have decreased its rust-inhibiting properties and shortened the life of the span.

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