The Future of the Dinkey Bridge

February 6th, 2010 · 9 Comments

Union Pacific Railroad and the City of Ames are engaged in an ongoing series of negotiations to determine the fate of the Squaw Creek Bridge, know locally as the Dinkey Bridge, which runs parallel to 6th Street, east of the Iowa State campus. The bridge is an iconic landmark in Ames. The Dinkey was a small train that ran between downtown Ames and the Iowa State campus. The trolley was in operation from 1891 to 1929.

In late January, Union Pacific ended negotiations with the City of Ames regarding the 6th Street Squaw Creek bridge. Their final and “best” offer was for the City of Ames to take it for free, or allow Union Pacific to tear it down. No one in Ames, from the students to the city council, wants the bridge to be demolished but, unfortunately, “free” isn’t so free after all.

Ten years ago, when Union Pacific wanted to shed the liability of the bridge, they offered to sell it to the City of Ames. The city decided that they would need an estimate of how much it would cost to repair the bridge, make it safe, and transform it into a pedestrian walkway. Well, it turns out that it would cost quite a bit. The final price of $213,000 to update and connect the bridge to existing walkways, plus the purchase price from Union Pacific, was more than the city was willing to pay; yet that figure is still much lower than the cost of demolition.

In September 2009, Union Pacific made their final offer to donate the bridge and land to the City of Ames, which initially sounded like a great deal for us. Unfortunately, during the last decade the condition of the bridge has deteriorated. The problem is not so much whether or not the city can find funds to eventually restore the bridge and tie it into the current trail system (which, thanks to the great research of Gloria Betcher from the Ames Historic Preservation Commission, it most likely can). The problem is that it is a liability issue to get it up to code as soon as the transfer of property is made. If the city were to take Union Pacific’s “generous” offer, they would be liable for any injury or harm that may occur as a result of the bridge’s poor condition. The City of Ames would have to immediately find over $80,000 just to bring the bridge up to code and make it safe.

On top of all that, Ames’ City Manager Steve Schainker has said that “even if the council were to accept their offer and take it for free, [Union Pacific] doesn’t want to give us permission to use their right-of-way to connect the path to our existing path.” Which may not be a deal breaker, but certainly makes the prospect of renovating the bridge less appealing.

In short: not only would the city become liable for damages and injury, but Union Pacific won’t let the city connect it with existing paths. So much for the Rails to Trails initiative. So much for a generous offer.

Is there any hope for the future of the bridge? Yes! Betcher is working with the State Historical Society to have the bridge listed in the National Register of Historic Places. While this won’t necessarily prevent the bridge from being demolished, it will make it more of a pain in the ass for Union Pacific. The hope is that it will keep communication with the City of Ames open and lead to the bridge’s restoration.

Want to get involved? Join the Save the Dinkey Bridge Facebook group.

Tags: 2010 · AP Issues · January 2010 · Kristin Roach · Of Local Importance · Under the Radar

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nitin Gadia // Feb 19, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    sorry to be blunt, but this article is way off

    Among many other things that were wrong/misleading, most importantly, the cost would only be $30,000 at most to just renovate the bridge, which is what the city was asking Union Pacific, which is a fraction of what it cost to demolish the bridge ($200,000).

    a little more research needs to be done next time :)

  • 2 garonsen // Feb 23, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    This article is accurate. The figures are taken from a recent presentation by the city manager, which were cross referenced with correspondence between him and Union Pacific.

    Your $30,000 is what the city initially offered the railroad (to fix the abutment) but there are many more costs involved with getting the bridge up to safety code and replacing railroad ties, connecting the bridge to existing walkways, and so forth.

  • 3 Nitin Gadia // Apr 22, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Nope, the $30,000 includes the cost to fully repair the bridge (deck, railing, and abutment), which the contractor Carrol Marty put in an estimate of $12,000 for materials

    All that is needed to save the bridge is repairing the bridge itself. All the other stuff will cost tens of thousands more.

    Where was the presentation made? Was it made before the City Council? Also, where was the

    We recently submitted a petition to the City of Ames and Union Pacific to look into the matter. Union Pacific is likely looking into the historicity of the bridge, because there is a law that the historical significance of anything has to be investigated before demolishing it.

    By the way – whoever runs this site should make it so I can receive responses in my email. I only came back because I made a note to do so in my email. That would make interaction on this website viable :)

    here is the plugin to use:

  • 4 Gavin Aronsen // Apr 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    Here’s an Ames Trib article from November 2009 which quotes City Manager Steve Schainker estimating a cost in line with what this article said.

    I don’t know what city council meeting the article cited was exactly, since I didn’t write this, but I imagine it was this one, in which a feasibility study was presented. It said, more or less, that the bridge is structurally unsound and would cost 5-10k/year for routine maintenance without major repairs with an estimated life span of 10-15 years, OR it could cost upwards of $1 for a full fledged rehabilitation, which would up the lifespan by 20-30 years but “would not be a long-term solution for the bridge as
    it would still be functionally deficient.”

    That figure is way beyond what it would cost to do what we’ve been talking about, no doubt, but $30,000 simply isn’t going to happen. That was the initial figure I always heard people bring up, before the bridge was deemed structurally unsound, but the city’s concerned about liability and getting the bridge up to code (or, now, getting rid of it) and 30k isn’t going to do the trick.

  • 5 Gavin Aronsen // Apr 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Err, make that $1 million, not $1.

  • 6 Nitin Gadia // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    thanks a lot for the links Gavin

    Actually, you have to read the thing carefully, it’s easy to miss.

    *The $5-10k maintenance costs, and $1 million rehabilitation costs are for the 6th Street Bridge – that is another bridge, a separate issue altogether
    - scroll down and you will see “UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD BRIDGE OVER SQUAW CREEK”

    *Contractors with the city estimated it would cost $61k for the deck and railing, and $20k for the abutment

    *Jamie Larson said that could be done for much less, and they should ask for $30k
    - it did not mention this in the notes, but he may have been referring to an offer made by Carroll Marty, a contractor, to do it with materials and volunteer labor for $12k. The city decided against volunteer labor, so it would cost more for labor

    Once again, the article did not mention that it would cost at least $200k to demolish the bridge, so $30k should have been a bargain for Union Pacific.

    It is still unclear to me why they really rejected the offer.

  • 7 Nitin Gadia // Apr 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    oh – and thanks for adding the subscribe option. That will go a long way for the Ames Prog.

  • 8 Gavin Aronsen // Apr 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Hah God, that’s what I get for doing research on the fly as I’m running out the door. That million dollar figure was not making sense to me at all. Thanks.

    I still stand by this article though, since it’s citing city figures from studies and talks from the manager and Joiner. But Larson’s disagreement is a good catch, I was wondering why the 30k figure was still lingering.

    In any event, I suspect the AP will cover this issue again, at the time of the demolition should it end up happening if not before that. Hopefully we’ll be able to clear some more things up with some interviews then.

  • 9 Nitin Gadia // Apr 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Yeah, I suppose that you mostly did what you could given how little the City and other media sources were clear about this issue. Despite that, it is still misleading – it gives the impression that it is simply not practical, and there is no way around it, when it is actually very practical and reasonable.
    In general, I would suggest talking to more than one source. The city (or 1-2 sources in general) will often not give you a full, comprehensive picture. Try talking to the community proponents of things, and verifying the facts and the picture with them.

    The whole time, the $12k offer from Marty was always there, and they tended to not use that. $30k is really all that is needed here.

    Yes, it would be good to follow up on this, especially since the article did not give the full picture

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