A bridge to nowhere?

This week construction began in earnest on the Colony Plaza project and a new footbridge was installed across Atascadero Creek, joining Colony Square (home of Galaxy Theater) with a new plaza and parking area on the north side of the creek and the Sunken Gardens beyond. The bridge has been the subject of a lot of controversy in the community and criticisms that it’s a “bridge to nowhere,” connecting one empty lot to another and within half a block of another bridge in either direction to boot. But I don’t think the critics are seeing the bigger picture — the bridge is just another baby step toward the transformation of the downtown area.

One of the main complaints I’ve heard about the bridge is the project’s steep price tag of nearly $3 million and on its face that idea, a small pedestrian footbridge costing millions, seems ludicrous. But it’s not such a crazy idea when you consider that the project includes more than just the bridge, that’s just the most eye-catching component. There’s also a new plaza with new landscaping that will match the Sunken Gardens style and a new parking lot that will add dozens of badly-needed spaces downtown. The price tag is also not so crazy when you consider the fact that the project is being built in California where permits and environmental reviews and all the other red tape can have a high cost all by themselves. 

So is it worth it? I think it is. The project is being paid for through bond funding and there were a limited number of projects that the funds could be spent on. The Colony Plaza project will add some much-needed charm to that area and will be a good first step to creating the type of attractive downtown creekside ambiance found in downtown SLO, a good first step toward attracting sales-tax toting consumers to our city. In time, once the groundwork is laid, these types of projects will pay for themselves by making our downtown an area where people want to spend time and where they want to spend money.

One of the other main criticisms I’ve heard is the bridge’s proximity to two other nearby bridges, the Lewis Avenue Bridge and the El Camino Real Bridge. Why can’t pedestrians walk an extra half a block to use those bridges? I would never argue that more walking is a bad thing, but there are also those with disabilities living in our community, elderly folks, families with small children who couldn’t walk that extra block even if they wanted to. The bridge will create a nice direct link between the new parking/Sunken Gardens and not only Galaxy Theater and the other shops on that row, but also the new business set to be built at Colony Square just south of the bridge. And the developer of those planned new businesses decided to go forward with the project because of the Colony Square project being approved, so it’s already paying off.

In my eyes this is not a “bridge to nowhere,” but a bridge to the future of downtown Atascadero.

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