The sign on the pedestrian bridge that spans Dodge Street connecting Memorial and Elmwood parks is somewhat out of date, says Nick Manhart.
“It says ‘Most beautiful bridge.’ But the sign is completely rusted, which is ironic,” says the longtime Dundee resident.
The sign once had truth to it. The pedestrian bridge was built in 1968. In 1969, the American Institute of Steel Construction named the bridge “The Most Beautiful Bridge in the U.S.”
That was almost 50 years ago. The bridge is now structurally sound, but rusted. Something needed to be done to bring the iconic treasure back to its previous beauty. And Manhart is determined to do it.
The stay-at-home father has lived in the area most of his life. As a child, he walked the bridge for eight years to and from St. Margaret Mary School.
Today, the five children of Manhart and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Manhart, walk over the bridge to St. Margaret Mary School just as their father did. He has a strong interest in rehabilitating the Dodge Street pedestrian overpass in time for its 50th birthday in 2018.
He found it difficult to get others to feel the same passion. He contacted the City of Omaha and received no response. But the story interested World-Herald columnist Erin Grace, who wrote about his campaign.
Grace’s article caught the attention of Pete Festersen, the city council member who represents the area. In March, the group Friends of the Bridge was organized.
“Without Pete’s leadership and advocacy, we would not have had the success,” says Manhart. “We were able to ultimately raise $300,000.”
The donations were collected through a form on the Dundee Memorial Park Association. DMPA then distributed the funds to Friends of the Bridge. Friends of the Bridge also raised money through a series of neighborhood activities, such as parties prior to the annual Memorial Park concert. Money poured in from 24 different zip codes, spanning the country from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C.
Out of total restoration costs, $150,000 will come from the City’s bridge maintenance fund.
The bridge brings back fond memories for many ex-Omahans. Its rich history started with a program in the early 1960s, launched to construct pedestrian bridges around the city. Between the 1960s and 1980, 19 bridges were built.
The Memorial Park bridge was the only pedestrian bridge in Omaha’s network of 19 where aesthetics were taken into consideration, says Manhart.
“We are planning an event for next fall when the work is done,” he says. “We would like to recreate the event.”
The event Manhart wants to recreate is the ribbon-cutting ceremony from April 1968, when city dignitaries, school children, and volunteers came to help inaugurate the new bridge.
The plan is to start work on the bridge after the Memorial Park Bank of the West “Celebrates America” concert in July 2017. The hope is for the bridge to be open again before school starts.
Renovations to the bridge—also known as the Dodge Street Overpass—will include lead paint remediation, rust removal, repainting, and the repair of decking.
Manhart’s passion for the bridge has not abated. Born in 1969, he says, “I am confident it will outlive me and generations of other people will benefit by it.”
Visit dodgestreetoverpass.org for more information.