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Purple People Bridge Could Reopen In October, But Money Still Needed For Permanent Fix

Michael Keating

The pandemic has put a dent in finances for the bridge, meaning the money needed for a permanent fix is not possible right now.

The Purple People Bridge may open as soon as October, but permanent repairs to the structure could have around a $230,000 price tag — an amount the bridge's parent company says it can't support. So, they are splitting repairs into two phases.

The first phase involves jacking the bridge up so construction crews can insert "wooden ties" that will support the area where the rocks fell, said Jack Moreland, a Purple People Bridge board member. The wooden ties are like the ones used on railroad tracks.

"So that would be Phase One, to support it with a wooden railroad tie-like material. As you might imagine, the wood wouldn't last as long as something more permanent," he said.

Moreland estimates the temporary fix could last from one to five years and could cost around $30,000, which he says the Newport Southbank Bridge Company can afford to get underway now.

But the pandemic has put a dent in finances for the bridge, meaning the remaining $200,000 needed for a permanent fix is not possible right now.

"We wish we could say to everyone, 'We have the money in our accounts to do that.' But we've had the same kinds of problems with COVID that everybody else has and our revenue stream has always been to have events on the bridge and charge a minimal amount of money for those events - that's how we make our revenue," he said. "And so for about a year-and-a-half now, we haven't had any sustained revenue. And so the Purple People Bridge board cannot say right now that we have the money to do the permanent fix."

The Purple People Bridge has been closed since May 11 when three or four large rocks fell into the Ohio River from pier one — located at the entryway of the bridge from Cincinnati. It partially reopened in June, but access across the entirety of the bridge has remained closed.

Moreland says the second and more permanent phase of bridge repairs includes replacing the areas where the rocks fell with new sandstone rocks or reinforced concrete.

The cities of Newport and Cincinnati have been kept in the loop about the closure, though the board has not asked officials to help fund repairs — at least for now.

"We feel like we have a responsibility to get the bridge open as soon as we possibly can. The people we're working with want to do that," Moreland said. "And so we're trying very hard to get it back open by using a temporary fix, so to speak, and then continuing on to a more permanent fix."

The board is seeking funds for repairs from foundations and "generous individuals." Proceeds from this year's Boom on the Bridge celebration Sept. 5 are also going toward repairs. More information about tickets to the event or making donations is on the Purple People Bridge website.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.