NOTE: See the new “Essential Information for Public Awareness” handout here.
QUESTION: Why should the Midland Valley Bridge have been saved rather than demolished?
What follows are four broad reasons, with some details included… A very short answer, however, is that the bridge was unique in many ways, and had a unique story that many wished to continue and be a part of!
- Historic Reasons
The bridge was legitimately historic, not only with respect to key Tulsa history (even including the founding of River Parks), but to Oklahoma history. Claims that the bridge had lost its historic value prior to its demolition were mistaken (or fabricated). Let’s go through a few related points:
Nathan Holth wrote, in January 2021, “Metal truss bridges in Oklahoma have been demolished at a staggering rate. This bridge today stands out as increasingly rare due to its long, multi-span configuration.” Mr. Holth, author of Chicago’s Bridges, works with the Historic Bridge Foundation and runs HistoricBridges.org. Unfortunately, we have now lost this increasingly rare and historic bridge, which could instead have been embraced and preserved as a valuable local asset. More from Mr. Holth in this article and this article.
Michael Wallis, the acclaimed Tulsa author and member of the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame, stated in his December 27, 2020 Tulsa World letter, “I still believe there is a place for the old bridge. We cannot save everything, but we must preserve at least examples of our past.” He also wrote, “At one of our sessions, I told some of my fellow committee members that perhaps we should reconsider removing the pedestrian bridge, if only because of its historic significance.” Bridge committee member Juan Miret similarly wrote, in part, “Connecting the West side to the amazing Gathering Place is fantastic. And keeping our history, saving our current bridge, is exciting and necessary.” See more here.
Tulsa scholar J.D. Colbert wrote in January 2021, “…the bridge visually connects us to Tulsa’s earliest days.” The bridge had a historic link to Tulsa’s founding citizen Tuckabatche, a Medicine Man who walked the Trail of Tears in the 1830s and who later granted the easement to the Midland Valley Railroad. We are not only losing this real-world visual tie to our past, but are losing the definitive architectural link between present-day Tulsans and a founding citizen of Tulsa. Please read the following document by Mr. Colbert, in which he explains the bridge’s historic importance to Tulsa:
Also see Mr. Colbert’s supportive statement here.
2. User-Friendly Reasons, Especially Shade
The bridge was shaded—it had built-in shade, using the authentic railroad ties, as was originally and cleverly suggested by the accomplished Memphis architect Roy Harrover, who designed the Memphis International Airport among other achievements (adding another element to the Midland Valley Bridge’s history). This built-in shade made it one of the most pleasant pedestrian bridges in the United States (or world); many people would regularly make time to enjoy being at the bridge, sometimes for hours (sitting, walking back and forth, etc.), even in the hot summer. (Young people, elderly people, people with physical disabilities, etc.) The new bridge, however, WILL NOT have shade structures, as has been confirmed by the Tulsa World (September 1, 2021). Also see this Public Radio Tulsa article with the following comment by Councilor Patrick: “That, to me, is really sad that there’s not going to be any shade. You’re not going to have a lot of people that are going to want to sit out there in the middle of Oklahoma summers without any shade.” Quality of life at the River Parks WILL be affected, at least for many individuals, like it or not.
3. To SAVE and BETTER USE Public Funds
Many millions of dollars in public funds could have been saved by keeping and renovating the original bridge instead of demolishing it and building new—by all hard evidence available (e.g., the actual engineering documents). The savings ratio? Over 50%—possibly over 70%. See this article. Also see Myths 2 and 3 in this article.
4. Ongoing Public Demand and Ethical Reasons
Many people (including some members of the City government) WANTED to keep the bridge going and to share it with their KIDS as well as with FUTURE generations. This public demand continued right up to the demolition, as did incoming bridge petition comments and signatures. Needless to say, many people are now quite unhappy about the demolition and will remember this for years to come. Tulsans should have been given a fair choice about keeping the bridge (at the very least), which they were NEVER given, contrary to what you may have heard. Instead, the public was lied to about what the engineers actually said about this bridge; the public was even told that there was NO real choice and that the bridge HAD to be scrapped (when, in reality, the bridge clearly was judged capable of rehabilitation in the engineering documents). The bridge’s condition (as written about by the actual HNTB engineers), as well as the estimated repair costs to keep the bridge going, were unquestionably misrepresented to the public—multiple times over a span of several years. It was highly unethical for the City of Tulsa to demolish the bridge on such a false basis. There is some important information related to this point (and other pertinent points) in this article. Once you have carefully read that article, and possibly some of the other material on this site, the reasons for much of the strong language used in this June 2021 letter to the editor may become clear… (Especially keep in mind that the public was literally BLOCKED from talking to the City Council about any of this at a regular meeting multiple times, in violation of the Council’s written rules, which indicated citizens could place items on a regular meeting’s agenda. The City clearly had things to hide related to this issue. But we already knew that…)
QUESTION: But didn’t Tulsans vote to have the original Pedestrian Bridge, the Midland Valley Bridge, removed or demolished?
No. Never. Tulsans were simply not given a legitimate choice about the Midland Valley Bridge. Tulsans were, rather, told that the bridge is “impossible” to salvage, that it “has to come down,” or that it would not be cost-effective to preserve, etc. (If any bridge in this discussion is not cost-effective, however, it’s the far more expensive Gateway…) Tulsans were led to believe that expert engineers had condemned the bridge as “structurally unsound,” such that it was “new bridge or no bridge [at all].” Wrong, wrong, wrong. See Myths 1 and 2 as well as Myth 6 in this article, for starters. Also, see this June 2021 reply to the Tulsa World, after the World ran an editorial (after demolition had already started) once again suggesting that it was “new bridge or no bridge”—despite the definitive evidence to the contrary which has come out since the bridge petition was written in November 2020.
QUESTION: How much money was transferred away from the Midland Valley Bridge (once it was officially “condemned” by the City) and put into, for lack of a better description, the “New Bridge Fund”?
Possibly over 12 million dollars, it appears. A Tulsa World article (from July 20, 2018) states, “The city is using three funding sources to pay its share of the project: $7.7 million from the Improve Our Tulsa capital improvements program; $4.7 million from a federal TIGER grant; and $15 million in Vision Tulsa sales-tax revenue.” The Improve Our Tulsa and TIGER grant funds referenced in that quote were, in the past, intended (at least by and large) for the Midland Valley Bridge, but later were transferred away to the “New Bridge Fund” (while, remember, the public was being told the original bridge “just can’t be salvaged,” etc.). Is this the ultimate reason the City deliberately chose to demolish the original bridge, so certain parties could instead use these existing public funds to help pay for a “pet” project that will possibly financially benefit certain members of those parties?
Below: (1) A picture and caption from a July 14, 2013 City Hall Report regarding the capital improvements package, and (2) a chart from the Tulsa World (September 10, 2014, page A6) including information about the TIGER grant, both referring to the Midland Valley Bridge…
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