Memorial Park bridge

It’s not that easy staying green for 50 years, but help is on the way for Omaha’s iconic steel pedestrian bridge over Dodge Street at Memorial Park.

City Councilman Pete Festersen said a plan is underway to renovate the bridge in 2017.

Festersen said city officials have committed $75,000 in city bridge maintenance funds toward the estimated $300,000 cost.

“Now we’re working together with a group called Friends of the Bridge to fundraise the rest,” Festersen said.

One of the leaders in that group is Nick Manhart, who is one of the neighbors who has been asking Festersen and other city leaders to make the bridge more presentable and ensure its preservation.

Festersen said a recent inspection of the bridge determined that it was structurally sound and will remain so for a long time.

The inspection confirmed the critiques from Manhart and others, that the bridge has maintenance and appearance problems, as evidenced by peeling paint and rust.

Festersen said the paint appears to be original to the 1968 structure. The city had the paint tested. It contains lead.

That will require special remediation measures as the paint is removed and the steel re-coated.

The project doesn’t have a leading private donor yet. But Festersen said expressions of support have come from such surrounding neighborhoods as Fairacres, Elmwood and Dundee-Memorial Park, as well as the lead-fighting Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and two schools whose students traverse the overpass: the University of Nebraska at Omaha and St. Margaret Mary Catholic School.

The serpentine span crosses Dodge Street at Memorial Park, just east of UNO’s main campus.

It provides safe passage over the wide street to students, neighborhood strollers, joggers, cyclists and Memorial Park fireworks-watchers.

The bridge also serves as a bulletin board — sometimes official, sometimes not — for announcing events, advocating causes and declaring love.

The bridge was designed by the late Omaha architect and engineer William H. Durand, who had taught engineering at Omaha University, which became UNO.

The American Institute of Steel Construction named the span “Most Beautiful Bridge” in the U.S. in 1969.

It’s an official historical landmark.

“And it’s an icon for the city,” Festersen said. “It’s one of our last true pedestrian bridges. It’s important to surrounding neighborhoods and schools and thousands who pass beneath it every day.”

Festersen hopes the work will be done in time for a large community celebration in 2018, the bridge’s 50th anniversary.

“And yes,” he said, “it’ll stay the same color.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1057, christopher.burbach@owh.com

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