Jun 8, 2023 - News

As costs spike, downtown bridge's future gets shaky

The Walnut Street Bridge has a lane of traffic in each direction and includes 88 free parking spots. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

Some Des Moines City Council members are questioning whether a recommended $16 million Walnut Street Bridge replacement downtown is necessary.

Why it matters: The bridge offers a detour when downtown events or road closures occur, but is also sandwiched between other Des Moines River bridges.

  • The Locust Street or Grand Avenue bridges are one and two blocks north.
  • The Court Avenue and Southeast Connector bridges are one and five blocks south.

Catch up fast: The Walnut bridge was constructed in 1911 and last went under significant rehabilitation in 1966.

Photos of the Walnut Street Bridge in Des Moines.
Inspectors list Des Moines' Walnut Street Bridge as structurally deficient, which is a term that means it needs work but is not an immediate threat to public safety. Photos: Jason Clayworth/Axios

State of play: Completion of a new bridge was planned by June 2023 but was delayed due to pandemic-related issues.

  • Its latest projected cost is almost 43% more than the $11.2 million pre-pandemic estimate.

Zoom in: An alternative idea to turn the bridge into a pedestrian-only crossing would still cost an estimated $15M, city engineer Steve Naber told council members last week.

  • Repairing the bridge would cost about $5 million but would extend the structure's use by just 10 or 15 years, he said.

What they're saying: Naber recommends replacement, noting that about $1 million has already been spent on bridge replacement designs.

  • Councilperson Connie Boesen said she worries closing the bridge could stymie development of areas like the nearby Market District.

Meanwhile, Councilperson Josh Mandelbaum asked the city during the meeting to further review the capacity of surrounding bridges to handle future traffic needs.

Context: Naber's presentation came during the same meeting where the city's finance team warned the council about approaching the city's debt limit.

Of note: City manager Scott Sanders tells Axios he believes the majority of council members still favor bridge replacement but more discussion will occur.

  • Reconstruction is currently budgeted in the fiscal year that begins July 2024.
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