With an expanding campus and a growing student population, KC students in the late 1960s and early 1970s faced a major issue: crossing U.S. Highway 259. The problem was solved on April 28, 1970 with the opening of the pedestrian crosswalk, now known as “the bridge.”
More than 40 years later, the bridge is showing its age.
Grime drips down the sides of the bridge, staining the cracking concrete, adding to its already unsightly appearance.
It was sandblasted 15 years ago; the effects were short-lived, Dan Beach, director of special projects and liaison to the board, said.
Attempts to beautify the bridge have gotten nowhere.
“I don’t know if the cage has ever been replaced,” Leah Gorman, director of development and executive director of the KC Foundation, said. “We discussed replacing the dented cage with a prettier, more round one.”
For KC’s 75th anniversary in 2010, Gorman and Jon Vashey, KC graphic designer and photographer, worked together on renderings of possible designs for the bridge, possibly including signage.
“KC owns the bridge structure, but the Texas Department of Transportation owns the air above, the air below and the road below,” Gorman said. “I met with them and they said we could not affix anything permanently on the bridge… [We] would have to paint it.”
If the college were to paint the bridge, there would be a certain amount of upkeep needed. Which that would require stopping traffic, Vashey said.
TxDOT has state regulations that all overpasses and bridges must follow, according to Larry Krantz, spokesman for TxDOT’s Tyler office.
“Every time we hang a banner on the bridge, we have to submit an application with TxDOT,” Gorman said. “Only college-sponsored events can have banners on the bridge and can only be left up for 30 consecutive days without reapplying.”
Due to safety regulations, banners must be hung on the inside of the cage.
“If the banner became detached, it would fall from the bridge and could possibly land on someone’s windshield… possibly resulting in a wreck,” said Krantz. “They have to be hung on the inside so if they do fall they will land on the walkway.”
Vashey created several simple concepts for the bridge, but all that were submitted to TxDOT were turned down because they could be a distraction to drivers. He noted that there are other colleges and universities that have painted bridges.
“People really do judge a book by its cover,” Vashey said. “We need something positive on the bridge, like ‘Your Future Starts Here’… The school name would even work… Anything is an improvement.”
Cleaning the bridge and restoring it seems like such an easy idea in retrospect, but that has not been the case.
“The bridge is not a high-priority item… We have discussed the idea for years,” Beach said. “You can’t just fix it when you want… A lot of Mr. Vashey’s ideas are great, but may never happen.”
Not only have the TxDOT regulations hindered moving forward, but the cost of the restoration has also been an issue.
“Getting the board to approve the cost of it will be difficult…,” Beach said. “It could easily be in the range of $200,000… It is ugly, but is it $200,000 ugly?”
Beach added he received a bid a few months ago for just painting the bridge a solid gray and it was “very expensive.”
“I think there are a lot of people that want to fix the bridge, but you aren’t going to find anyone who wants to pay for it,” Beach said.
According to Gorman, many firms have been contacted between Kilgore and Dallas, but most have been reluctant to take the job. She added a lot of them could only do part of the job, or did not want the job at all because it was so difficult.
“Basically, you are going to have to shut down the highway, and most local contractors we have been dealing with don’t do this on a regular basis,” Duane McNaney, vice president of administrative services, said. “Shutting down the highway is a big deal.”
Still, others agree the bridge is a main architectural focal point and not a particularly attractive one at that.
“It definitely needs some work [and] has for several years,” Gorman said. “Even just being cleaned up will help… it is such a great advertisement for Kilgore College.”