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City limits access across aging Howard Street bridge

The southern Howard Street bridge in Riverfront Park will be off-limits to vehicle traffic, and pedestrian access across the bridge will be limited because of deterioration to the concrete structure.

City officials announced the restrictions Wednesday. They’ll be in place for Sunday’s Bloomsday race.

Weaknesses in the bridge were confirmed by a study of the three Howard Street bridges in the park. The study was undertaken to determine if the park could accommodate trolley service, said Mark Serbousek, street director.

The southernmost of the three Howard Street spans is adjacent to the park’s Carrousel, Rotary fountain and Clocktower meadow.

A 25-foot-long swath in the middle of the bridge will be cordoned off with fencing. Pedestrians will have to use 10-foot-wide pathways along the east and west railings. The restrictions are intended to preserve the bridge’s remaining life, Serbousek said.

The deterioration is not considered a public safety risk, although the bridge would have to be replaced if trolley service on the Howard Street corridor is ever developed. In that case, the middle span also would need to be either replaced or improved, Serbousek said.

Craig Butz, manager of Riverfront Park, said weight restrictions were imposed on the span a few years ago, but the northern bridge has no restrictions.

Butz said the city hopes to make an attractive centerpiece for the park out of the cordoned-off bridge area.

In addition, planters will be placed at both ends of the bridge to prevent vehicles from driving onto it.

The new restrictions are intended to prevent large crowds from gathering on the bridge, particularly during large events.

The main vehicle access to the park is now off Washington Street at the north end of the underpass tunnel through the park.

Light-duty vehicle access is also available near the YMCA, Butz said.

The weaknesses were determined through a computer program that analyzed the type of concrete and steel used in construction of the south bridge and the dimensions from original plans in the early 1900s. That data was compared to potential load weights from large crowds, he said.

Serbousek said maintenance of the bridge over the years has revealed exposed and rusted reinforcing steel on the structure’s underside.

Contact Mike Prager at mikep@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5454.

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