At 90, Sumner’s landmark Bridge Street Bridge is suffering the infirmities of age.
Its steel handrails are bent, its wooden walkway is warped, and its roadways are too tight for buses and trucks to navigate easily. Based on national standards, the bridge’s steel superstructure earns just a 7 rating on 100-point bridge sufficiency scale. Bridges rated 50 or below need priority replacement.
The bridge load limit prohibits large buses and tractor trailers from crossing.
Now, after years of planning and design, the bridge replacement project is about to start. The new bridge will be the fourth to cross the White River at that spot. The first was constructed just south of the present bridge in 1863 for $495. The new bridge will cost some $17 million.
“There’s no doubt the bridge needs to be replaced,” said Sumner’s associate engineer, Jason Van Gilder.
But while the bridge’s condition requires its replacement, the community will miss its presence, said several longtime residents.
The bridge, built in 1927 on the west edge of downtown, has become a landmark in this town of 10,000. Its old-fashioned steel truss construction has lent an air of historic authenticity to Sumner’s quaint main street ambiance.
The community usually celebrates the Christmas holidays by outlining the bridge in white lights. Last year, because of the impending bridge replacement, the lighting didn’t happen.
Stacy Haven, president of the Downtown Sumner Association, said the bridge has played a key role in the promotion of downtown.
“We’ll be sad to see it go, but the city has worked hard to create a new bridge with a flavor of the old one,” she said.
Van Gilder said the new bridge design evolved through multiple public hearings and citizen requests.
This spring, the city’s contractors will begin removing vegetation on the White River banks where the supports for the new bridge will rest. That bridge will be built just south of the old structure, allowing traffic to continue unimpeded across the river on the old bridge until the new bridge is ready for service.
Construction will begin this summer and finish in mid- to late-2018.
The design approved by the City Council is at heart a modern concrete bridge but with decorative features that hark back to the old structure.
Those decorative features include lantern lights rising from bridge’s margins. Those lights will be equipped with LED bulbs that can change colors to celebrate different seasons or events. The streetlight poles will mimic the “acorn-style” light fixtures on the old bridge. And a network of catenary lights will be strung above the bridge’s traffic lanes.
The bridge railings will be built in the style of the old bridge’s riveted steel superstructure. And a pocket park at the bridge’s west end will include a beam cut from the old bridge’s structure to remind visitors of the bridge that stood on the spot for nine decades.
The remainder of the old bridge will be cut up and sold for scrap.
The new bridge will be wider than its predecessor so it can better handle the trucks heading to Sumner’s industrial area north of downtown.
Despite the historic features included in the new structure, not all history buffs are satisfied.
HistoricBridges.org, a nonprofit founded by Nathan Holth of Michigan and dedicated to cataloging and advocating for historic bridges, has criticized Sumner for being “bent on reducing this bridge to scrap metal and constructing a slab of concrete in its place.”
“The proposed superficial details, such as ornamental railings and colored lighting on the bridge, are elements that either already existed on the historic bridge or could be added to the historic bridge,” it said.
“True bridge aesthetics are derived from a bridge that does not need to disguise or hide its ugliness, but instead is itself beautiful such that superficial decorations are either not needed, or are simply complementary to existing structural beauty.”