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.