“We come here every year and this is my first time ever seeing this,” said one of two tourists from southern Iowa who were walking across the pedestrian bridge on a recent Friday afternoon this summer. “We like to hang out by the library and by the river there, and this is right next to it, it’s perfect.”
“I love it,” the other replied. “You can see the fish down there and everything.”
The pedestrian bridge is crossing the Mississippi River is now open for use, connecting the trail behind River Grand and the trail on the riverfront by KAXE.
The bridge crosses the river in between the Horn Bridge on Airport Road and the Pokegama Avenue Bridge. This offers a safer option for walkers, connecting southeast Grand Rapids’ residential areas around the YMCA, River Grand Senior Living, and nearby apartment complexes to the downtown library neighborhood. City Administrator Tom Pagel hopes that this will give more community members, including lower-income residents, access to both more resources and the beautiful natural areas of town like the riverfront.
“There was such a distance between the two existing bridges, and they weren’t that safe to cross,” said Pagel.
The metal bridge features a wooden deck for walking, and two lookout areas extending out each side in the middle. These areas have lower railings for walkers or bikers to stop and look down the river, or fish off the side. On both sides will be a few benches. A small bathroom building will be built on the north side, to serve as a stop for walkers on the network of connected trails around town.
This bridge is one of the first projects part of the larger proposed Riverfront Framework Plan, which the Grand Rapids City Council has been considering parts of for several years. According to Pagel, a Riverfront Development Committee considered ways to improve the riverfront area more than 10 years ago, and the original plan for a pedestrian bridge was part of those conversations.
Pagel explains that funding this bridge has been a decade-long project. Congressman Jim Oberstar supported adding it to a federal transportation bill before he was defeated in the 2010 election. Years of negotiations followed at federal, state, city, and charitable levels.
Final funding for the pedestrian bridge tallied up to $653,946 federally, $750,000 from the state, $578,000 from the city of Grand Rapids, and $50,000 from the Blandin Foundation, making the total cost of the project just more than $2 million.
Pagel said that after this work, he is pleased with the project because of the amount of people it affects. He explained that a large amount of the city population “lives within a quarter mile of the bridge, just because of all the apartments. That’s a lot of people.”
A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held later in the summer.