Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crouch Bridge: What Were They Thinking Of? or, We Don’t Like To See A Small Town Die

Residents of Crouch and Garden Valley filled the expansive GV Senior Center on Monday night, to react to the new design of a replacement bridge for the 1935 Crouch bridge, over the Middle Fork of the Payette River, next to the tiny downtown village of Crouch.

Fifteen years ago, according to Boise County Road and Bridge Department Superintendent, Bill Jones, the State gave the Crouch Bridge a sufficiency rating of 50, out of 100. As of today, it is rated 23.7, by Idaho Transportation District. (Brooklyn Bridge has a 0 rating, with 150,000 cars whizzing across every day). In 2003, Boise County Commissioners were convinced it was the right thing to act in accord with ITD and agree to a bridge replacement project, and the Mayor of Crouch wrote a letter of support.

The design that was shown to residents on March 15, 2011, in the Crouch Community Hall, was not what  many people had in mind. Hence, on Monday evening, the community formed a cohesive unit of grassroots power and yes, expressed themselves.

The following is a general rundown of the meeting.

Let’s talk about Options:
A. Redesign the Bridge?

County Commissioner and Chair of the Board, Jamie Anderson, jumped right in and started addressing concerns: “If we back out...once the County signs up for Fed aid—we pay back about $300K. The original project is so old, there is a 20% match for every dollar, which taxpayers have been paying. When it goes to construction (the rate changed in 2006), we’ll pay 7.34%.

“We could back out. We could delay. We have 10 years to pay it back. It’s a lot in our budget—it means less services. We could delay with a cost--Federal Highways has said they will not pay for redesign.

“The $300K includes design, permits and environmental studies up to the present.”

Commissioner Terry Day assured the audience with a laugh, “We’ve had 40+ invoices, month and after month...if I had my druthers, I’d hand this project to you.”

“I don’t know anybody who’s happy with the solution of this bridge,” said Commissioner Bob Fry. “We’re looking at least $100K for redesign. $1.3M for construction...the cost of materials, would go up, if we delay. When you take money from a state or federal agency, there are strings attached. Be careful.”

Someone corrected a commissioner: “We don’t want to do what’s best for the County. We want to do what’s best for Crouch and Garden Valley.”

B: Remove the Bridge?
Anderson: “We’d want to consult our emergency services; since the Ambulance responds from Highway 17, this would be more of a concern for fire response. In approximately 3-4 years, ITD will condemn the bridge, as it is."

The bridge is 100% within the jurisdiction of Crouch. Yet, Mayor Bob Powell avers that
though Mayor Elaine Baker wrote a letter of support for a bridge, in 2003, “we had no opportunity for consideration—we have never been approached with a design.”

Bill Jones said it is not economically feasible to repair the bridge and it should be rebuilt. He commented, “At the first meeting, every person wanted a sidewalk for pedestrians.”

Who approved the design of the bridge? Anderson stated that federal aid has certain federal standards. When the matter finally came to the City Council, six days ago, via Marcia and Mike Hefner and other community members, they suggested a covered bridge. The Hefners are property owners who would stand to lose more than just parking space.

Mike Hefner handed a petition with 555 signatures of residents opposed to the bridge design, to the Board of Commissioners. He said, “This has brought up thoughts on what not to do, to correct a bad situation. If we don’t do what’s right, we will regret this.

“The girders are 7’ high. Greg and Gerold’s trailer court will be put in a big hole—no one has talked about that. I figured this was a speeding zone, with bike lanes...the height of the also has to withstand a hundred year flow with no structure supporting the center on this. The width is their standard. When they considered the traffic, bicycles have to have a lane on each side. A covered bridge is the only way to go. I don’t like to see a small town die.” Affected property owners are the Hefners, Greg Simione and Gerold Dennett and the Youren family.

C. Not build? How about No Bridge?

Folks had ideas about this:
*Federal government is broke. Why don’t we impose on our senators and representatives and have them de-fund us and put the money back into the government's pocket. Leave the bridge there, do repairs and press on, so we don’t have to ruin downtown Crouch.
*The old road used to go through Mountain Shadows. In 1961-62, they built Davey’s Bridge—the reason for the bridge was to provide a road. We do not need two high-load bridges within one mile of each other. The economy is bad, the County is broke, the federal government is broke, I’m nearly broke. I do not want to spend one more dollar!
*Let’s take control and get the Federal government out.
*For people who want to build a new bridge, get into your pocket book. Let the bridge we have stand as long as it will and rebuild as it deteriorates. Then take it out and use Davey’s and see how the economy goes.

D. Re-engineer a bridge that would fit in our community?

Lots of answers were offered:
*The encroachment is on private property—90% is Marcia Hefner.
*Crouch is the epitome of Americana—we need a new bridge but I’d hate to see this big, huge concrete monstrosity come through to the middle of town.
*1-lane metal bridge, or condemn it and make it a walking bridge. With the old bridge, we’re able to walk to the store, kids can cross. A bigger bridge means bigger trucks, somebody will get killed.
*I’m from Pennsylvania. We have covered bridges. Stop paying consultants that you don’t know what you’re paying for. In Vermont, in Pennsylvania, they have covered bridges—they get it done.
*I'm concerned about the height and faster speeds. This is a rustic town, we don’t need a million dollar parking lot.
* The one-lane bridge is a good lesson in manners—we have to wait for each other and be patient. If people had known what they would design—just remember, we pay all the taxes—federal, state, and county~
*Bridge design is extravagant~
*I gave the engineer an F. There are other alternatives. A company makes beautiful arched wooden bridges, priced less. At the last meeting, several engineers brought this up, it was totally ignored. The community needs to set up barricades and not let them do it.
* I think it’s unspeakable. They haven’t involved the City of Crouch in the design. We could scale it down to two lanes, keep the old bridge, get timber and craftsmen to fix it up and even put a cover over the metal one. We need to take a deep breath, and not spend another dime on holiday engineers.
* This bridge is worn out. It needs to be replaced or moved—or stop driving across it!
*We could design a bridge digitally and get all specifications for it, for nothing.

The Trading Post is owned by Marcia Hefner. Employee Jerry Hines spoke out: “Marcia is the angel of Garden Valley. How many times has she helped people when they couldn’t pay for a water heater or needed help? Christy Morgan said, “Marcia has had the longest-standing business in town. Mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. Marcia has helped us all—we owe it to her.”

Before the meeting broke up, people wanted to know, “How do we get involved?”

Terry Day said, “We can’t make the decision tonight—but we have to make a decision. The “go ahead” option is a no. I know there is some resentment for the board; if you had shown this much interest in the beginning, these things would not have gotten out of control.”

The crowd responded that they never expected this kind of design, after expressing what they wanted.  How can they legally force those charges on us, now that we’ve rejected the design? A certain reporter reminded the commissioners that the engineers produced a bridge design that the town specifically said they did not want. “We need to hold them accountable for that money.”

Commissioner Anderson said, “We are exploring all the options, but we need strong words from Crouch."

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