BROOKLINE (CBS) – A Brookline footbridge that has been closed for four decades will cost taxpayers more than $4 million to restore and reopen to the public, the WBZ I-Team has learned.
The Carlton Street footbridge was built in 1894 and once connected pedestrians to the historic Emerald Necklace park system.
However, as the fate of the footbridge has been fiercely debated among Brookline residents, the WBZ I-Team found the price tag has quadrupled in the past decade.
The latest estimates show restoring the 131-foot crossing will cost about $4.2 million and will be paid with a mix of federal, state and town funds through a “transportation enhancement program.”
Federal money will cover about $3.1 million of construction costs, with state dollars funding the remaining $768,000. Brookline town funds are paying about $428,000 of design engineering expenses.
“It’s ridiculous!” expressed Brookline resident Fred Lebow, a long-time “squeaky wheel” when it comes to the fate of the footbridge. “This is a waste of money. It’s not like restoring the Statehouse.”
But in a Brookline debate that has persisted for years, there are also passionate supporters of restoring the bridge.
“There’s a lesson to be learned. Don’t defer maintenance,” Hugh Mattison told WBZ. “It’s sad that it’s going to cost that much, but everything is going up.”
Mattison said the footbridge is an asset for the historic stretch of park space. He also points out that town leaders have their hands tied when it comes to proceeding with the project.
That’s because fixing the Carlton Street footbridge was detailed as a requirement in exchange for receiving millions of federal and state dollars for flood control and environmental restoration work along the nearby Muddy River.
In a 2003 document provided to the I-Team, then-Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ellen Roy Herzfelder wrote that project funding was dependent on “enforceable commitments and a timetable for restoration” of the footbridge.
“We see that as a mandate,” Brookline town administrator Melvin Kleckner said.
When anticipated construction begins in about two years, the bridge will be removed, rehabilitated and reinstalled. Crews will attempt to reuse steel members where possible.
Unlike the original structure, however, the restored footbridge will meet requirements for the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and include handicap-accessible ramps on each side.
Despite the growing cost, supporters like Mattison say the project is worth the taxpayer investment.
“Everything is a good use of taxpayer money as long as it serves the public and people want it,” he said.
So how many people will actually use the footbridge? The I-Team obtained the most recent study, completed way back in 2001.
According to the findings, during the busiest times of the day in summer months, an estimated 41 pedestrians would use the footbridge per day and 24 cyclists.
“Too much money,” said Susan Etscovitz, who frequently walks in the park. “I think there are other transportation needs that supersede this.”
Others said the pathway to the park can’t open soon enough. Tim Schuettge said it would provide a shortcut during the walk to his job in the Longwood medical area.
“I would use it,” he said. “A million here and a million there and pretty soon you’re talking big money. Four million dollars isn’t that much.”
But critics argue paying for the footbridge duplicates work taxpayers recently funded at the nearby Longwood MBTA station. Since that project was completed in 2009, the T stop has provided the Brookline neighborhood with an ADA-accessible entrance to the park.
For someone who walks by the footbridge to get to the Longwood medical area, the shortcut would save about 1,000 feet of the commute.
“Seems like a lot of money to spend when you can do the same thing down the hill,” said Trey Toombs during his walk to work.
Town leaders tell WBZ they anticipate advertising the project for bids in October 2018. Construction will likely begin the following spring.
For opponents like Lebow, spending millions of dollars on the project remains a bridge too far.
“This is all of our money! I just don’t understand the rationale here,” Lebow expressed.
Ryan Kath can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.