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Josh Brodesky: Cushing St. Bridge: May it take us to better times

Josh Brodesky: Cushing St. Bridge: May it take us to better times

Nothing comes clean and pure with city progress. That couldn't have been more apparent at Thursday's Cushing Street Bridge groundbreaking, where civic leaders extolled the project as a symbol of hope and revitalization, even though its genesis is a symbol of failure and collective disappointment.

You can't dwell on history like that at a groundbreaking. Not when blue ribbons are tied to shovels, and all the politicos turn out to wave and smile. Not when the official line is to celebrate and move forward. But the history of the Cushing Street Bridge is so weighty, even Councilwoman Regina Romero had to give it a nod, noting the bridge "has seen some ups and downs."

Yes, that is one way to describe a bridge that was promised to voters in 1999, only to go through four redesigns at a cost of $1.6 million, and has been rebid twice in the last two years.

Ups and downs.

"But it is finally here," Romero said.

Romero and Deputy City Manager Richard Miranda described the bridge as monumental in their remarks, and I hope they are right.

The bridge will span the Santa Cruz River, linking downtown and the west side. With it will come the streetcar and all that we have riding on it. Or so we've been told - and, you know, everything they've told us has come true.

This bridge "is not a connection to nowhere," Romero said. "It's an investment in people."

May it be so.

All across the west side are reminders of how the city has failed to invest in its residents, or squandered the opportunity. There is I-10, which bifurcates barrios and cuts off the west side from the rest of the city. There are the old scars of the razing of hundreds of barrio homes in the 1960s to build the Tucson Convention Center downtown.

There are the ghosts of Rio Nuevo: the museums, Mission Gardens and the Convento.

And there is the Cushing Street Bridge, which was part of the Rio Nuevo plan voters approved in 1999. The campaign fliers shown voters for Rio Nuevo feature a rendering of the bridge over the Santa Cruz. It's a simple bridge with an elegant archway at the end. It was supposed to cost $2.6 million.

Twelve years later, it's being built for $10 million (including design costs) with money from the Pima Association of Governments that was supposed to be used for repaving.

"The fact that the money did not come from Rio Nuevo is again an indictment about what the hell is going on," former Mayor George Miller told me after the groundbreaking. "The money should be used for the streets."

It didn't have to be this way.

Design work first began on the bridge in 2007 just after City Council approved $6 million for it, but Mike Hein, then city manager, wanted something more elegant and scrapped the plan. He wanted something grand with arches and trees. He wanted a big statement. But subsequent designs created flooding issues, which created delays, which created nothing. And what wasn't built became a different kind of big statement.

Despite his strong quote about Rio Nuevo, the old mayor was of two minds about the new bridge.

This was, after all, something Tucsonans voted for, he said. It was put on the Rio Nuevo list to link the community, at least symbolically, and set things right with the barrio residents after the TCC.

"Symbolic things happen in politics that are more important than real things, and that's just a fact of life," Miller said. "I think that this helps. This helps patch that up."

The new bridge will be named after former City Manager Luis Gutierrez, who fathered the oft-forgotten vision of Rio Nuevo that voters (I was one of them) embraced overwhelmingly. West-side residents asked to have the bridge named after him, and Gutierrez said he was honored.

His vision for Rio Nuevo was inclusive. It would honor the city's birthplace and celebrate our history and culture.

If anything, the opposite of that has happened, but Gutierrez will speak only of hope. He sees momentum in this bridge and the streetcar.

"I am more hopeful now than I was six months ago, but this is a very definite, concrete step forward to create that birthplace that we all envisioned back in 1999," he said. "I certainly wouldn't be interested in having my name associated with a bridge to nowhere or a bridge to high-rise apartments or something like that."

Not to worry, Luis. If that happens, we'll simply rename the bridge after Mayor Walkup.

Columnist Josh Brodesky grew up on the west side. Contact him at 573-4242 or

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