For years and years, the railroad company let the two neighborhood bridges rot, and now Davenport taxpayers have to fix them.
More than a year ago, two Canadian Pacific Railway-owned bridges over Davenport tracks were in such bad shape, they had to be closed. Located in residential neighborhoods — Elm and 13th streets — the portions of roadway became too unsafe for passage.
"CP is pleased that it was able to reach an agreement earlier in 2019 with the city to transfer ownership of the bridges at Elm and 13th to the City of Davenport," Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings wrote in an email Tuesday.
Of course Canadian Pacific is pleased.
Under the agreement with the city, the railroad is paying Davenport $1.9 million toward the estimated $6.3 million needed to repair and/or replace the structures. Who wouldn't be happy to have someone else pay more than two-thirds of the cost of fixing something you let rot?
In the same email exchange with Cummings, he was asked why the railroad abandoned the bridges, rather than repairing them.
His only other response: "CP has no further comment on the bridges now owned by the City."
Not their problem now, in other words.
When Davenport Public Works Director Nicole Gleason confirmed reconstruction on the bridges isn't likely to even begin until spring of 2021, I expected those living near the structures to complain about the three-year closure of their street. But that wasn't the case.
"In the immediate area, we love it," said Kris Overmann, who has lived in a home two doors from the Elm Street bridge for 25 years. "The traffic when it was open was getting ridiculous; it was way too fast.
"We're just so fed up with the railroad to begin with. They've never maintained the property along their right-of-way."
The Elm Street bridge is near the center of the connection between Jersey Ridge Road and Eastern Avenue, and Overmann said the street was heavily traveled. With the closure, her busy street has become a quiet dead-end.
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But it's not just the peace and quiet that's forming her opinion of the closure. Overmann said she and her neighbors recognized the potential danger of the bridge well before the city closed it.
"There was a hole in the middle, and you could see through to the railroad below," she said. "It was the size of a coffee cup, but it's at least three times that size now. It got much bigger, even without traffic on it.
"It's crazy that we were driving over it that whole time."
Gleason confirmed it was the railroad's obligation to take care of both bridges, but she also noted the company had little practical incentive to do so.
"Canadian Pacific had the legal responsibility to both maintain and reconstruct both bridges," she wrote. "The City of Davenport would still have been responsible for 50% of any maintenance costs for the bridges. While Canadian Pacific had a responsibility for the bridges, the purpose for the infrastructure from the perspective of the railroad is different than the community need.
"Because the roadway across the bridge does not serve a railway business need, the level and extent of any voluntary repairs would not have been in the neighborhoods’ long-term interests."
It is better for the neighborhoods to have the city own the bridges, Gleason said, because the city will provide permanent repair.
"These are well-used bridges that provide access to schools, neighborhoods, and a hospital," she added. "By accepting $1.9 million from Canadian Pacific, the city is now able to request state grants estimated at $1 million that should fill the vast majority of the funding gap for the Elm Street Bridge."
The 13th Street bridge, which is on the perimeter of the Village of East Davenport, gets much less traffic, she said, so Elm Street will be rebuilt first.
So, after Davenport taxpayers shell out a few million to replace them, the bridges will be safe and good as new.
Stand by for what will be required of Davenport in order to get Canadian Pacific to properly repair the downtown railroad crossings, which they raised by several feet to get through floodwaters. Though the river has been below major flood stage for nearly two months, the city-owned River Heritage Park on River Drive remains inaccessible, due to the height of the tracks.
"Staff is meeting with CP this week on the next steps in the rail crossing restoration efforts; this includes alternatives for River Heritage Park," Gleason wrote.
That shouldn't sound as daunting as it does.