Bridge connects residents with their government
When people look at a bridge, they usually see a plain structure with little aesthetic beauty.
Most bridges are simple in appearance, with an emphasis on function and low cost, customarily just a road or walking surface and a basic railing. Consequently, most people see bridges as having only one purpose: to move traffic.
But, about a year ago, the residents of Queen Creek, located southwest of Phoenix, decided to take an active role in transforming a functional concrete bridge into a statement of artistic expression and community involvement.
Queen Creek is a desert area dotted with horse farms and agriculture. With only 1,000 homes, it boasts friendly people, open space and strong community involvement.
The town’s residents have been working for several years to try and add more character to their main street area. So they seized the opportunity when, about a year ago, the bridge spanning a dry wash at the end of the town’s main street needed replacing. The Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) intended to replace the deteriorating bridge with a new modern concrete structure — safe, but with little uniqueness.
But town residents had a better idea, and the Ellsworth Road Bridge project was born. Led by Queen Creek Council Member June Calender and Town Manager Cynthia Sealhammer, the town organized a group of concerned stakeholders to work with a private engineer and a graphic artist to redesign the bridge. MCDOT planning engineer Greg Holverson and bridge engineer Phil Epstein headed up the county’s efforts during the process.
“MCDOT welcomed and encouraged the town’s interest in the development of the bridge,” Holverson says. “It’s unusual to see this type of community involvement on a project such as a bridge.”
The design teams worked to satisfy both the cultural and aesthetic needs of the community while keeping the bridge functional. “The type of requests made by the stakeholders were relatively new to everyone involved; we just needed time to find a way to accommodate everyone,” Holverson explains.
The bridge would be unique in five ways:
* The bridge and supports would be painted or dyed to blend with the surrounding Southwestern desert;
* The railing and walkway design of the new bridge would be more accommodating to bicycles and pedestrians and more urban in appearance;
* A version of the town’s logo would be recessed into the railing and painted for uniqueness, adding an important aesthetic element perceived missing from the original design;
* The bridge would be raised several feet to accommodate equestrian trails that currently go through the wash; and
* The construction detour would be moved to save three well-established cottonwood trees.
Design changes requested by the town cost an additional $100,000, which was divided between the town and the county.
Through their grassroots planning efforts, the people of Queen Creek and MCDOT set an example that other communities can easily follow. Because of the stakeholders’ interest in the betterment of the community and MCDOT’s commitment to public participation, the Ellsworth Road Bridge now stands as a model of community/government partnering. And, since the Ellsworth Road Bridge serves as a gateway to the small town’s main street area, it is extremely visible, Sealhammer says.
“By working together, we have created something that allows the people of Queen Creek to have a voice in their community, and this has resulted in a better bridge. That’s important to people who live here, and it’s the right way for the government to prove it is responsive,” he explains.
The town and MCDOT now are ready to start a second bridge that will incorporate much of the same design and construction techniques as the first. By participating in the Ellsworth Bridge project, the residents of Queen Creek found that a bridge can not only move traffic, but it can connect them to their government, community and a process of collaboration that will bring success to many future projects.