Residents petition against demolition of 16th Street viaduct

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - Some people in Hastings aren't ready to give up the old 16th Street viaduct, and hope a petition will reverse the city council's decision to tear it down.

People in Hastings are petitioning against the demolition of the 16th Street viaduct. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

Alton Jackson, Norman Sheets and Paul Dietze are the chief petitioners for the referendum to stop the demolition of the viaduct. Jackson said their hope is to get enough signatures to put the issue on either the May or November ballot.

"I just think it's the right thing to do," Jackson said. "I'm interested in what's good for our community, and I think that is a real convenience and is one we want to get back."

The city council voted 6-2 to demolish the overpass back in December. It was their cheapest option provided by Olsson Associates, an engineering firm, costing about $1.5 million. Tearing it down costs a little less than half as much as it would for extensive repairs to the current structure.

Since declaring it as a threat to public safety, the bridge has been closed since the end of May.

But Jackson doesn't agree with the city's decision to bring it down for good. He said some of his biggest concerns are how it'll impact traffic flow along Burlington Avenue, and what it'll do to nearby businesses.

"If we can save it,it takes the load off the other viaduct. There are a lot of older people that really like to go that way to go to the Medical Park. We've already lost a gas station, because the lack of traffic killed it," Jackson said.

Several people added signatures to the petition Monday at Jackson's Car Corner, 315 W 3rd St.

Jackson said they worked closely with the city attorney and city clerk to formalize the petition. They'll need close to 2,200 signatures from registered voters who live within Hastings city limits to move forward.

Jackson said he hopes to get closer to 4,000.

But as the structure sits untouched, some are concerned about its quick deterioration, and the public's safety.

"Something needs to be done," said Jay Bleier, senior engineer and project manager at Olsson Associates.

After assessing the viaduct for the city, Bleier said they found the bridge is tearing itself apart. He said 4,500 vehicles use to travel along the bridge every day. That weight, combined with harsh weather, has taken its toll.

His assessment shows concrete is falling from the columns. The rebar is exposed and corroded. The joints have completely locked up, and need to be replaced. To repair that, the bridge deck would have to be lifted off each column.

The bridge is close to 85 years old. Bleier said it's lasted about 35 years past its lifespan. He said it's possible to make repairs to it, but the city would have to revisit the same issues in about 25 years.

Bleier said in his professional opinion, the city should demolish the viaduct and build a new one. That would cost between $12.5 and $13 million, and the structure would last between 75 and 80 years.

He said whether the viaduct stays or goes, it's all a matter of public safety. The longer the viaduct stands, the more it'll fall apart.