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'Wow' designs released for proposed Cedar Rapids recreational bridge

Grand 600-foot span would use old railroad bridge's pilongs, connect NewBo and Czech Village

New design rendering show an impressive bike/pedestrian span over the Cedar River using abandoned railroad piers. (Illustration from Shive-Hattery Architects)
New design rendering show an impressive bike/pedestrian span over the Cedar River using abandoned railroad piers. (Illustration from Shive-Hattery Architects)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Picture a twin deck, 125-foot tall walking bridge spanning the Cedar River with lit cable stays illuminating the night sky from Czech Village to the NewBo District.

Parents could push strollers down an extended 16th Avenue SE to a trail, pause to enjoy the river at a platform on the bridge, and meander on to the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library. Cyclists might wheel down Third Street SE from Cedar Lake, stop for a beer or bite, take a selfie under the bridge’s tower and rest on benches in Sokol Park. Retirees may walk a loop from the 16th Avenue Bridge to the new bridge dubbed the “Sleeping Giant.”

That’s the vision, anyway: a grand span for local residents and a destination for recreational trail users passing through the area.

“It needed to create a spectacular view at a distance because the view is hidden in the community,” said Steve Sovern, a lawyer and champion of the project. “The river takes a sharp left. That’s why the height is so important as well as lighting it to that height.”

Last week, Shive-Hattery finalized renderings of the proposed bridge’s design — a cable-stayed bridge — said Sovern, who provided The Gazette with the images. The concept was selected by a group of 30 community stakeholders this spring.

William Micheel, Cedar Rapids assistant community development director assigned to the project, challenged designers to develop a “wow factor, so when he brought his kids to the bridge that would be their response,” Sovern recalled.

“In my personal opinion, we are not building a bridge,” Micheel said this week. “We are building an amenity, something the city of Cedar Rapids will be proud of.”

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Sovern hopes the bridge can be built next year, in coordination with bike trails planned along top of a flood berm on the old Sinclair meatpacking site protecting the NewBo District. The city-led flood project is scheduled to begin in November.

“We believe it is important to incorporate future recreational amenities now when it’s financially feasible to do, rather than rip things up after the fact and spend a lot more money,” said Dale Todd, with the Southside Investment Board, which supports the revitalization of NewBo.

Todd called the bridge “a driver for future development in the Sinclair area.”

Sovern, Todd and Cedar Rapids businessman Eric Engelmann recently announced an initiative called Destination Cedar Rapids, which links the bridge with the Cedar Lake remodel and Sinclair area redevelopment.

ADDING CONNECTIONS

Lee Schmidt, 45, of Marion, and Katy Thomas, 36, of Cedar Rapids, during a break on the Iowa River Trail near the proposed bridge site, called the design impressive. The added trail capacity would relieve pinch spots, such as the 16th Avenue Bridge, where congestion creates safety risks for cyclists, they said.

“We’ve been saying for a while it is needed,” Schmidt said. “More trails the better.”

Thomas added she often travels for recreation, such as to the High Trestle Trail near Ankeny, downtown trails in Davenport and Des Moines and others out of state. She said the bridge would create a similar draw for Cedar Rapids.

“I think it would bring people here,” Thomas said.

The proposed 600-foot-long bridge has two 10-foot wide, side-by-side decks with a connecting center platform. Support cables from either side of the deck suspend from a 125-foot tall tower standing perpendicular through the center.

The bridge would run along the one-time Rock Island Railroad bridge and if possible use the old piers and steel approaches, Sovern said. The abandoned 1865-built bridge was knocked down in the 2008 flood.

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Darrell Hagerman, 62, of Cedar Rapids, said while sitting under the pavilion at Sokol Park, he uses the trail daily, and the old railroad bridge should be put back to use.

“It’s an eyesore,” Hagerman said. “It’s been sitting there since 2008, and this would be a good use. This would add connections.”

If built, the bridge would link to trail systems near the Solid Waste Agency’s Mount Trashmore on the west bank and planned trails near the Alliant Energy substation on the east bank. It would fork either toward a new 16th Avenue SE extension near St. Wenceslaus Church or to a trail on the flood berm.

NEXT STEPS

The Shive-Hattery construction estimate is $5.3 million, not including engineering and incidental costs, Sovern said.

Grants and fundraising, which has not yet begun, would pay for the project, he said. Enhance Iowa, a new state grant program with money for river and lake projects, is one possible source, he added.

Next steps include studying transfer of ownership from the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway and fundraising and grant writing, Sovern said. Micheel said he is studying the practicality and liabilities if the city took ownership of the bridge. Micheel said he is also speaking with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation about the possibility of owning the bridge on an interim basis until after it is built, he said. The foundation owned, fundraised and acquired land for the High Trestle Bridge Trail in central Iowa before turning it over to local jurisdictions.

The Cedar Rapids City Council’s Development Committee assigned Micheel to the project, which is a sign of the city’s interest, Micheel said. Other leaders have also been supportive.

“Trails are extremely popular and the number of bike riders using trails continues to grow,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said. “The bridge is a fantastic project. Since it is an ambitious project it will take time to line up funding. It will have to be a public/private partnership. With long-term plans of NewBo, Czech Village and the landfill restoration this project fits nicely.”

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The project is being modeled after the High Trestle Bridge over the Des Moines River west of Madrid, Sovern said. That, too, was once a train bridge, but has become the focal point of a 25-mile trail and a regional destination.

“This will be one of those beautiful destinations,” Sovern said of the Sleeping Giant. “Cedar Rapids has many special places, but I don’t know anywhere in Cedar Rapids that will be like this.

“This will be a cornerstone in the community.”

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