Newton officials began rebuilding the Albemarle Footbridge — a popular access point for pedestrians in West Newton — after a car, swept up in Cheesecake Brook flood waters, collided with it and left it in ruins.
The remaining debris was removed several weeks ago and construction for an interim footpath began Sept. 20. The 30-by-10 foot, steel-framed bridge will be built in the same location and structurally resemble other “small river crossings,” said Newton Public Buildings Commissioner Josh Morse.
The temporary bridge is expected to be completed in three weeks, Morse said, but a more permanent solution will eventually replace it.
At a Public Facilities Committee meeting last week, councilors approved a request from Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s office to transfer $181,550 to “a Cheesecake Brook Bridge Repair Account” from a fund dedicated for stormwater improvements.
While the permanent bridge will be much more costly — the current estimate is $400,000 — Morse said it will be similar in durability and aesthetic.
“The life expectancy of this temporary bridge is comparable to the permanent bridge solution,” Morse said in an interview. “It’s a little broader of a discussion when we talk about a permanent solution because there will undoubtedly be varying opinions as to the exact location of where the pedestrian bridge would be placed.”
The permanent bridge will have to be “carefully designed” and be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and accessible to those with mobility issues, said Newton’s Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Yeo.
Morse said the temporary bridge will likely serve as the main footpath for two to three years, until the city can build a more permanent structure.
Planners for the long-term Albemarle Bridge will be forced to reckon with the reason for the footbridge’s demise: flooding. A thunderstorm in June 2020 caused the Cheesecake Brook to flood, and now, a year later, heavy rain resulted in an accident destroying the entire structure.
Environmental concerns tied to the Albemarle Bridge have been on city councilors’ minds for a while now. Emily Norton, Newton city councilor and executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, said the bridge has been on their “list to be replaced” for quite some time.
Not only does the brook carry polluted stormwater from the Massachusetts Turnpike, but Norton said the “decrepit and beat-up” footbridge is ill-equipped at holding the massive amounts of precipitation triggered by climate change.
Morse said stormwater projects will seek to address the more frequent, “100-year storms” the city faces.
In Mayor Fuller’s letter to the Public Facilities Committee, she noted how students from the F. A. Day Middle School routinely use the footbridge. Yeo pointed to how the bridge is important for the middle schoolers.
“It’s in a really critical location because there are many students from a large neighborhood who cut behind some houses, there’s a pathway that leads right to the bridge,” Yeo said in an interview. “There were hundreds of kids who were using this bridge.”
Sarah Paine, of West Newton, occasionally takes walks along the Cheesecake Brook and said the footpath is usually busy. Now, she said, pedestrians are forced to walk north to Crafts Street and back around, amounting to about a half-mile detour.
“You have to walk all the way down there,” Paine said, pointing to the intersection. “It’s crazy.”
Cameron Morsberger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.