Ribbon cutting ceremonies held Sept. 7 for latest Penny Fund project
Jessica Sandler brings her young children to Riverbanks Zoo quite often. In the past, she sometimes would have to push a stroller and juggle bags, all while ushering her children over railroad tracks to get from a parking lot to the zoo.
Thanks to the Richland County Transportation Penny Fund, Sandler and the 1 million other annual visitors to Riverbanks can now access the zoo more safely and conveniently. A 115-foot pedestrian bridge connects the recently added 500-car north parking lot to the zoo, spanning 25-feet over the CSX railroad tracks.
The 2½ story CSX Pedestrian Bridge was officially unveiled Sept. 7 during a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by approximately 100 people, including Richland County council members and Riverbanks’ commissioners.
It is a very big deal, said Rob Perry, Richland County’s transportation director. “Mothers and fathers and grandparents were pushing strollers over the train tracks,” Perry said. “Not only does the pedestrian bridge increase safety, it also helps get people in and out quicker.”
That is definitely a big positive, Sandler said.
“It’s really nice,” she said. “Now, if I have to park there (in the North lot) I can walk right over.”
The bridge, which uses the same stacked stone and colors of the new Riverbanks entrance, brings visitors to within a few feet of the front gates.
“We purposely used many of the same building materials in the bridge design in order to compliment the (zoo) entrance,” said Satch Krantz, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden president and CEO.
Landscaping along the banks of the track gives zoo visitors a picturesque walk to the front gates.
Jennifer Tanyi, a frequent Riverbanks patron, is glad to have access to the bridge.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Krantz thanked Richland County and the Transportation Penny Fund for the bridge, which concludes $40 million in construction at Riverbanks over the past 2½ years. The overall project includes a new entrance with improved guest amenities and more parking; new grizzly bear and river otter habitats with shared boundary views; Waterfall Junction, a 3-acre children’s garden; and Sea Lion Landing.
The earlier phases of the work were funded through a Richland and Lexington county bond issue and a private fundraising campaign.
The $3.1 million bridge project began in February.
“This is a key to our customers’ comfort and safety,” Krantz said.
Janice Cowen, with Operation Lifesaver, an organization that promotes rail safety, has worked with Riverbanks about safely navigating the tracks that spilt the zoo’s property.
“This is a happy day for me,” she said.
The CSX Pedestrian Bridge is the latest in a long list of transportation and commuter improvement projects made possible through the Richland County Transportation Penny Tax program.
The Penny Program was approved by voters in November 2012 and includes projects throughout Richland County during a 22-year period or until $1.07 billion in sales tax revenue is collected, whichever occurs first. The program includes such projects as road widenings, intersection improvements, sidewalks, bikeways, dirt road paving and greenways.
Richland County Council Chairman Torrey Rush called the pedestrian bridge a shining example of the Richland County Transportation Penny Fund at work. “Visitors now have safer access to Riverbanks Zoo,” he said. “No longer do you have to worry about crossing an active railroad track to get to the zoo.”