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Is this historic bridge worth the expense?

February 6, 2019

The fate of a decaying historical Pratt truss bridge at the Battleground Golf Course is in question as Deer Park’s city council wrestles with whether to spend money to repair it.

Depending on how much repairs would change the fundamental structure of the bridge — and the will of the council members to pay for them and possibly future maintenance — the bridge may not retain its historical status, City Councilwoman Sherry Garrison said.

“The bridge is deteriorating, and there is concern about what we are going to do about it,” she said. “My problem is the bridge has a Texas historical marker, which is very difficult to get. It would break my heart to lose it.”

Said Garrison, who is part of the city’s historical association, “I hope that it’ll work out, but I have to think about how much money (this would cost). We have to be good stewards of taxpayer money.”

Bids for possible repair of the bridge are scheduled to be presented at a Feb. 19 City Council meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 710 E. San Augustine.

According to historyofbridges.com, truss bridges were being patented and built as early as the 1820s, with their construction continuing into the early 20th century. The bridges feature a rigid framework and eventually were built completely of iron.

The Pratt truss bridge type, like the one at the city’s golf course, was invented in 1844 by Thomas and Caleb Pratt.

Deer Park’s bridge was constructed in 1891 and brought to the city in the 1990s from Coryell County.

“The bridge was brought to Deer Park as part of a $125,000 grant in which the state spent $100,000 and Deer Park spent $25,000,” City Manager James Stokes said.

The city has spent more than $270,000 maintaining the bridge over the last decade.

“In 2012,we spent $229,635 having a contractor reconstruct the decking, add new safety rails, and install pilings which serve to support the bridge’s weight rather than the trusses,” Stokes said. “In the past few years, we have spent approximately $42,000 in engineering fees as we determine next steps for the bridge.”

Recently, an engineer with RPS Engineers estimated total repairs could cost nearly $371,000. This would include the skilled labor associated with repairing the truss members and the additional replacement of more of those members requested by the city’s public works department.

The engineer informed council members that, if main truss members and intermediate supports are removed, the Texas Historical Commission would have to be notified and the historical marker returned because too much of the existing bridge would no longer exist.

According to minutes from a Dec. 4 City Council workshop, Councilwoman Rae Sinor spoke against spending any more money on the bridge.

“I think it is shameful that we are pushing three quarters of a million dollars to protect a bridge. Much of it has already been replaced, and we continue to worry about it to preserve its historical value. We spoke to you all about six months ago of the safety of the bridge. It is falling apart. I predicated months ago that it was going to be more costly than this,” she said, according to official minutes.

Garrison gave some indication on how she’s thinking.

“I could pay the $370,000 if they can tell us that with yearly maintenance the bridge will last,” she said. “But if in 10 years we have to spend this kind of money again, then I’d have a very hard time, in good conscience, to say yes to this.”

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