The council voted 5-2 on Oct. 21, 2019 not to take ownership of the bridge. On Feb. 3 this year councilors passed four motions (three by 7-1 votes and one by an 8-0 margin) to request additional information from ODOT. On June 15 councilors voted 5-3 not to take another vote on ownership and instead wait for a report from Preservation WORKS.
That report was unveiled Aug. 6 during a 95-minute discussion of the bridge at a council work session, the sixth such session devoted to the bridge project. Monday’s agenda item will be the fourth to be considered at a full council session. In addition, ODOT has held three open house events on the project.
The issue has sparked strong community response. To date, the Gazette-Times has published 19 letters to the editor, with 10 opposed to preservation efforts and eight supporting them. One letter was essentially neutral.
Bull and former legislator Tony Van Vliet, another member of the preservationist group, wrote “As I See It” guest opinions in favor of preservation. Karyle Butcher, a former councilor and longtime Budget Commission member, wrote one opposing the preservation plan.
Butcher and other opponents did not speak ill of the bridge or its history. “In a world of unlimited resources, (turning the bridge into a bike/ped feature) would be great,” Butcher wrote, “but we do not inhabit such a world. In our world we have a city that made a commitment to its citizens to honor their (three) levy votes by using their tax dollars in a fiscally responsible way. To fund any aspect of the preservation of the Van Buren Bridge would be a violation of this trust.”