How a New Bridge Rebuilt Community Trust and Pedestrian Safety

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Salud Heroes
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Cam Juarez didn’t want people to be disappointed, again.

Years ago, a city project failed to deliver a promised new pedestrian bridge over a dangerous waterway in the Rose Neighborhood (92% Latino) in Tucson, Ariz. It would have improved walking and bicycling safety and connected people to a park and a nearby elementary school.

Rose neighbors were skeptical when Juarez, then the coordinator for Pima County’s neighborhood reinvestment program, asked them to pitch ideas for fundable improvement projects.

But Juarez bridged leader-resident trust—and replaced a pedestrian bridge that resembled the rickety old one in Indiana Jones with an amazing new bridge.

The Dangerous Waterway

High school student walking across footbridge over a flooded wash in Tuscon, Arizona in October 2015. Source: A. E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star 2015

Most times, the Rodeo Wash is dry.

But during thunderstorms and rainy seasons, the waterway in Tucson’s Rose Neighborhood fills, flows, and often floods. A few flood-related deaths also have occurred.

There was a 40-year old Army surplus pedestrian bridge over Rodeo Wash.

“Like the one in the Indiana Jones movie, where you had missing wooden planks and could see down into the wash,” Juarez said.

A new, safer pedestrian bridge over the Rodeo Wash was especially needed due to its border with C.E. Rose Elementary School (97% Latino) in Tucson Unified School District.

In neighborhoods with unsafe streets and poor access to recreational sites, Latino children are less likely to get the physical activity they need for healthy lives, according to Salud America! research.

City Project Falls Through

Cam Juarez overlooking the Rodeo Wash. Source: Salud America!

A new pedestrian bridge and other roadway and drainage projects in Rose Neighborhood were approved by voters as part of a $712 million city bond project in 1997.

However, by 2006, none of the Rose Neighborhood projects had even started.

In fact, 36% of the projects promised to voters in 1997 were never done, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

“Part of it was political, part of it was deviating funds to projects that went over schedule or funding, or had never been approved,” Juarez said.

A New Step to Neighborhood Improvement

Alice Vega, husband Henry and daughter, Amanda standing on the pedestrian bridge over Rodeo Wash. Source: A. E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star

Rose neighbors now were not sure they could trust local leaders to deliver.

Then Juarez joined Pima County as its new coordinator for neighborhood reinvestment. Their idea was to increase civic engagement and educate people how to interact with their local government.

They wanted to help neighbors create proposals for funding for infrastructure improvements.

Juarez began by evaluating neighborhoods where previous funding for infrastructure improvements had fallen through. Rose Neighborhood was on the top of the list.

In late 2006, Juarez attended the Rose Neighborhood Association Meeting to introduce himself and the neighborhood revitalization program.

Neighbors, like Alice Vega, raised the need for a new pedestrian bridge over Rodeo Wash.

Juarez said funding was available through a 2004 general obligation bond. Neighbors were skeptical.

But Juarez and other staff attended the Rose Neighborhood Association meetings every month, and continued to urge residents to propose the project for funding.

I really had to build bridges, no pun intended, to get them to trust elected officials to build a bridge. I had to rebuild their trust.

Cam Juarez
Former Neighborhood Reinvestment Program Coordinator for Pima County

“I really had to build bridges, no pun intended, to get them to trust elected officials to build a bridge,” Juarez said. “I had to rebuild their trust.”

The Path to a New Pedestrian Bridge

Three Rose Neighbors eventually agreed to submit a project request for a new pedestrian bridge.

The trio wrote the proposal on two pieces of college rule paper in pencil, Juarez said. But that was okay. Juarez was there to help them build a strong proposal.

Rose neighbors wanted the bridge to provide safe access for pedestrian, bicyclists, and wheelchairs, with lighting at night, and a nice aesthetic appearance.

Rodeo Wash in Rose Neighborhood in Tucson, Arizona. Source: Salud America!

“We helped map the project and get them a cost estimate,” Juarez said.

Juarez submitted the proposal to a bond advisory committee. They sent it to the county’s supervisors.

When approved, Juarez sent out a request for qualifications and later a request for proposals, all while maintaining contact with and updating Rose residents. Structural Grace, Inc., applied and was selected to design and construct the pedestrian bridge.

Juarez worked hard to make sure the funding was honored, and the bridge constructed.

“One of the most interesting parts of the neighborhood reinvestment program was the high level of engagement,” Juarez said. “We became family with them and were invited to family dinners.”

The Rose Neighborhood Pedestrian Bridge

The bridge, at its most basic level, needed to ensure safety when Rodeo Wash floods.

In fact, during construction, workers experienced a “100-year flood,” which flooded the existing footers by 4 inches. That meant the bridge needed to be even higher. So they started over and dug down 20 feet to install more stable footing.

Children walking across Rodeo Wash pedestrian bridge. Source: Salud America!

The new Rose Neighborhood Pedestrian Bridge opened in January 2010, enhancing neighborhood connectivity and safety.

“It got people outside. It got people interacting in a healthy way,” Juarez said. “And that’s really what I take away from this, is that we connected a park to a school, and we connected a community to public education, which is really important to me.”

That year it also won the 2010 ACEC Engineering Excellence Grand Winner Award.

“It is more than just a pedestrian bridge. It’s a bridge to connect the community,” said Juarez, who went on to become community engagement coordinator at Saguaro National Park. “At the end of the day, it creates community, and that’s really what this is all about.”

How is your city working with residents to meet their need for healthy spaces?

Get some ideas here!

By The Numbers By The Numbers

81

percent

of Latino neighborhoods lack recreational facilities compared to 38% of white neighborhoods.

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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