If one needs further evidence of just how surreal pandemic times have become, consider Thursday’s virtual groundbreaking for a long overdue overhaul of the Waco Suspension Bridge. After brief prerecorded remarks by Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver, City Manager Bradley Ford and some of the council, all turned earth in a split-screen video presentation, marking formal start of a $12.4 million project that will leave the historic bridge closed into 2022. (Wonder if they all used the same shovel?) As Trib staffer Rhiannon Saegert reports, the project should ensure the bridge’s continued durability through another 150 years, give or take a few decades.
Some might question the project’s timing, given an economy struggling to right itself and tax coffers from Waco to Washington that will produce difficult dilemmas in coming months. Yet the Waco Suspension Bridge is so iconic in conjuring Waco, its frontier origins along the Brazos River (complete with philanthropist Clifton Robinson’s life-size Robert Summers cattle sculptures in Indian Spring Park), even our heady challenges in terms of segregation and bridging racial and cultural divides that city leaders would be remiss to allow this particular project to be shelved for too long. This bridge represents a frontier commitment to ingenuity and innovation as the longest single-span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi.
As a visitor from West Texas remarked after visiting: “The Waco Suspension Bridge is featured in every episode of ‘Fixer Upper,’ and why not? It’s an historic site and an architectural landmark in Waco. It’s a pedestrian bridge only, so no problems strolling along slowly. It offers great views of the Brazos River and the Baylor University football stadium in the distance.” A Florida woman taken with bridges remarked: “This one will fill your heart with a sense of peace.”
“Since its construction in 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge has been known as an engineering marvel of its time,” Mayor Deaver said. “But importantly, it was the first example of a civic project where the money was raised by local residents with a vision of connecting [both] sides of the Brazos and making this a crossing point that would be a focal point and a center of commerce for the city. In fact, they succeeded, and it was exactly that. In the 150 years that have followed, it has become a cultural symbol and a center of our economy and culture in Waco. It’s a gathering spot for tourists, for weddings and for all kinds of events, and it’s turned into a real icon for our city.”
The bridge has undergone other overhauls, significantly in 1914 when rebuilt for improved structural capacity. That’s when it assumed its signature art deco stylings. But the cabling and anchors dating to that era have now reached the point where replacement is necessary, city officials say. This means rehabilitation that covers the foundations, towers, decking and railings. As work ensues, we hope fellow residents and cherished visitors see it as an expression of faith in our future, highlighting a path forward in times of economic stress and political uncertainty, even as health experts warn of perilous times this winter. In that context, this project radiates community optimism.
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