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Aging skybridge concerns parents, but officials confident issues don’t pose safety threat

May 17, 2018 04:16PM ● Published by Carl Fauver

This skybridge spanning 4700 South at about 3100 West is stirring concern among parents whose kids cross it each day, to attend Truman Elementary School. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com

The catastrophic pedestrian walkway bridge collapse at Florida International University on March 15 heightened awareness of such structures around the world — even in Taylorsville and West Valley City. 

“That tragedy made everyone much more aware of the potential dangers of walkway bridges, certainly,” said Forsgren Associates Inc. engineer Nick Patterson, who is Taylorsville City’s contracted city engineer. “But that collapse had nothing to do with our decision to take a look at the bridge across 4700 South.” 

Six people were killed when the Florida bridge fell onto a multi-lane roadway, just a few days after the new structure was put into place. The event also got parents across the country thinking more about the bridges they entrust their kids to each day, as they walk to and from school.

“To be honest, I had never really given that bridge much thought, because we live on the West Valley City side (north) of 4700 South  so my kids never walk across it to get to (Harry S. Truman Elementary) school,” Molly Upshaw said.  “But when a few parents from the Taylorsville side brought it to my attention, we decided to take a closer look.” 

Upshaw has been president of the Truman Elementary Community Council since August. The school (4700 South 3200 West) sits along the southern border of West Valley City, drawing students from that city as well as Taylorsville. But only Taylorsville children need to traverse busy 4700 South to get there. And nearly all of those who walk to school, do so by crossing the bridge. 

“Sometimes it feels like one side (of the bridge) is a little lower than the other,” said Truman Elementary fifth-grader Mari Etherington. “And it looks like it is warping a little.” 

Officials say minor repairs are needed on the skybridge crossing 4700 South near 3100 West. (Jodi Etherington)

 Mari and her mother, Jodi Etherington, joined Molly Upshaw at a recent Taylorsville City Council meeting, right after the parents had led Patterson and West Valley City Public Works Director Russ Willardson on a walking tour of the bridge. 

Jodi Etherington is also a secretary at Truman Elementary, but is quick to point out she became involved in this issue strictly as a parent.

“There are a lot of places where cement has worn away on the bridge, along the edges of the path and around fence pipes,” Etherington said. “There’s also exposed rebar in some places and a hole has been cut out of the fencing. So, we just wanted professionals to take a look at the bridge and determine whether major improvements are needed.” 

In a word, Taylorsville City Engineer Patterson says, “No.”

“I would say, for a bridge this age it is still very structurally sound,” he said. “Certainly there is some wear and tear, and it definitely needs some maintenance. But we don’t see any exposed steel, just some rebar… which does not compromise the integrity of the bridge.”

West Valley City’s Willardson added, “We are not concerned the bridge could collapse; but I am worried a larger piece of concrete could fall off the bridge, onto a car below.”

Patterson said both cities are now researching to determine exactly when the bridge was built, and to try to find its original plans. So far, they believe Salt Lake County built the structure some 20 to 25 years ago. The cities then plan to join forces to complete maintenance work on the walkway. 

“It would be nice to get that done during the summer when kids aren’t using the bridge as much,” Patterson concluded. “I have no idea what the cost would be. But we don’t expect it to be a lot, and I would guess the two cities will split it. Repairing parts of the fence and adding concrete in areas where it has worn away is about all the bridge needs.” 

“Both Taylorsville and West Valley City were very quick to respond to our concerns,” Jodi Etherington added. “They joined us to tour the bridge within a week after we asked, before we could even appear before their city councils.” 

“The city representatives on the (skybridge) tour promised they would make improvements,” Upshaw concluded. “So I figured I would give them a couple of months to get going. If we don’t see any action, I’ll make some more calls.”

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