Months in the making, the newly refurbished Grand Avenue pedestrian bridge will be partially opened by Wednesday.
The west end of the bridge will be open to pedestrians, but because of ongoing downtown street construction, the east end of the structure isn’t expected to open until closer to early October, said David Solberg, Eau Claire city engineer.
“It turned out nicer than it was on paper,” said Solberg of the pedestrian crossing over the Chippewa River. “And I think people are going to be excited to get out on the bridge and check out the overlooks and the views of downtown.”
One of those people is Mike Schatz, executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., which is holding its sole fundraiser, A Grand Evening on the Bridge, on Wednesday.
In its fifth year, the event provides diners an opportunity to dine and socialize on the bridge, eating and drinking fare from some of downtown’s establishments.
“It’s a neat experience to have dinner on the bridge,” said Schatz, especially with all of the developments downtown, including the construction of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, which will open in September.
The annual event, which Schatz is expecting to draw 184 people, usually raises about $10,000 for DECI.
The estimated $1.7 million bridge project involved replacing the crossing’s concrete deck and railings; widening the bridge from 10 to 12 feet; and adding four outlooks to the existing two and decorative lighting. The piers and steel girders on the bridge were in good shape and remained.
“We got a lot of complaints about the old railings,” Solberg said. “The bottom was rusted out. The deck was also crumbling in spots.”
The six overlooks, constructed at each pier, extend 14 feet out over the river and are 18 feet wide at their widest point, Solberg said.
The last week of August, colored lights donated by downtown businessman Zach Halmstad will be added to the piers, Solberg said.
Officials originally estimated the bridge would be open earlier this month, but there were a few minor hiccups during construction, some of which were caused by high and low river levels, Solberg said.
The east end of the pedestrian bridge will open once there is a safe sidewalk connection on that side of the crossing, Solberg said. Road construction on the east side of the Chippewa River is expected to be completed in October, and the east end of the pedestrian bridge realistically will open not much earlier than that.
Nearby, work is continuing on another pedestrian bridge in the city’s center. In June, workers began placing temporary supports in the Eau Claire River to prepare for the installation of the structure, which will connect Phoenix Park to Haymarket Plaza, an outdoor gathering space the city is building at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers.
Solberg is hoping to have the new crossing partially open in early September.
“It’s going to be fabulous when both projects,” along with the Pablo Center at the Confluence and Haymarket Plaza are all done, Solberg said.
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