Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Lake Park Bridge Needs $1 Million More

Cost now at least $3.4 million to repair historic footbridge designed by Olmsted.

By - May 18th, 2021 06:33 pm
Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park. File photo by Dave Reid.

Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park. File photo by Dave Reid.

It looked to Milwaukee County officials like they had finally put together the funding to fix the historic Ravine Road Bridge in Lake Park. But as far as local contractors are concerned, they’re about $1 million short.

The bridge, more than 110 years old, spans Ravine Road and connects the northern and southern halves of Lake Park. In 2014, major structural problems were noticed and the road beneath was closed.

Since 2015 the county has been planning and designing repairs for the bridge, while also trying to put together the financing. The cash-strapped Parks Department has very little funding for capital projects each year. But in the past year it looked as though all the pieces had finally come together.

In 2019, parks was awarded a Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) grant for $2 million. Then, the county received another TAP grant for a sinkhole on the Oak Leaf Trail, which freed up more than half a million dollars that were then transferred to the bridge project. The Lake Park Friends also raised $300,000 in private donations, which were put into a fund to pay for maintenance over the 50-year lifecycle of the bridge once repairs are made.

The county’s engineers estimated the total construction cost for the project would be approximately $2.65 million, said Karl Stave, acting director of Architecture, Engineering and Environmental Services for the county. That estimate, Stave said, had been thoroughly vetted. It had been run through the state DOT before the county released a request for proposals on March 24th.

There were 40 contractors that showed interest in the project, Stave told the county board’s Finance Committee. There were six contractors the county thought were “legitimate, qualified contractors,” and only two bids were received.

The lowest bid on the project came in at approximately $3.4 million from Zenith Tech, a construction firm based in Waukesha, Stave said. The second lowest bid was over $3.7 million from Michels Corporation.

So Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman went before the board’s Finance Committee Thursday, May 13th, asking for approval to transfer $1 million from the county’s allocation for contingencies to the bridge project.

“To be point blank honest, I never thought I’d have to do this,” Wasserman told the committee. “But because of bids and because of construction and because of various other costs that are gonna be discussed by parks staff… We thought we had enough money for it.”

The TAP funds have a deadline attached to them that require the county to start construction on the project within the first six months of 2021. Wasserman and county officials say the extra funds are critical to securing a contractor so as not to lose the $2 million making up the bulk of the project’s financing.

Wasserman’s district includes Lake park and he said that after the county discovered it would need to repair or replace the bridge the feedback from community meetings showed there was significant public support for repairing the bridge given its historic significance. This point is underscored by the $300,000 the local friends group managed to raise for the bridge.

Sup. Ryan Clancy, at committee, put it this way, “Lake Park Friends raised $300,000 not for a super sexy project, for bridge maintenance.”

Lake Park is a federally designated historic place. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park.

The historic nature of the bridge is also what makes it so expensive, Stave told the committee. Based on conversations with contractors that declined to submit a bid, Stave said “They had backed out because of what they perceived as a risk, a very risky project.” The deteriorating bridge, more than 100 years old, makes it a “difficult site, it’s a difficult facility to rehabilitate,” he explained.

The committee ultimately voted five to two to approve the additional $1 million for the project.

Supervisors Liz Sumner and Shawn Rolland both voted against the fund transfer after expressing concern about tapping the contingency account for the project, and whether it made sense to repair such an aged bridge.

Sumner questioned whether the $1 million really met the defined purposes of the contingency account, and said she was concerned by the contractors backing out because of the riskiness of the project. Rolland questioned whether a single footbridge in a county park was truly worth an additional $1 million, when there is millions of deferred maintenance in parks all across the county.

Ultimately the years of work parks staff and other county officials put into the project, the huge support for historic preservation and the possibility of losing the $2 million TAP grant were what won over the committee.

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More about the Ravine Road Bridge Project

Read more about Ravine Road Bridge Project here

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

One thought on “MKE County: Lake Park Bridge Needs $1 Million More”

  1. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Rebuild that bridge with wood rather than concrete and the million dollar misunderstanding will be mute.

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