Bridge of death
Owned and published by UMHB, The Bells is a biweekly publication. This content was previously published in print on the Opinions page. Opinions expressed in this section do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff or the university.
Anyone who drives over the SH 317 bridge (the one over the railroad tracks on the way to Wal-Mart) will notice a flurry of new construction near the guardrails. Entombed beneath the orange cones and maintenance trucks is the story of a woman who made a fatal fall over a railing fit to protect no one.
On Feb. 28, 2007, Marian Chimene, a 68-year-old Belton resident, was found dead under the bridge. While officials never claimed to know exactly how she plunged to her death, a stroll across the shaky overpass shortly after the incident allowed reasonable conclusions to be drawn.
Reporters from The Bells found a mere two-foot guardrail that barely reached most of the staff’s knees.
Senior mass communication/public relations major, Katelyn Dean, at the time a sophomore, said her legs “shook like Jell-O” every time a car passed, and she was “thankful to get off the bridge.” If a healthy 19-year-old was rattled crossing the bridge, what would happen if a frail, elderly woman tried to make it to the other side? Perhaps we already know.
It does not take a genius to realize that a short railing will not stop any adult from tumbling over the side of a shaking bridge. This calls into question the foresight of the bridge’s designers. Maybe they simply were not given height standards. But that is irrelevant now, and it is sad that improvements to the bridge only came because of the elderly woman’s unintentional sacrifice.
It should not take the loss of a life to prove to the city or the state the dangers of a piece of architecture, especially when there are clear signs of potential hazards. Because the highway is state owned and Belton monitored, the lack of communication between both the city and state government entities failed citizens. While the height of the pre-existing railing was shocking, the breakdown in communication between Belton and the state of Texas is the most troubling aspect of this entire episode.
Since more safety improvements are going to be needed in the future with the growth of the university, the city and state ought to get a better grasp of citizen needs. Already it is perilous business to pull onto Highway 317 from 9th and 10th streets during heavy traffic. Will a student have to be killed in a car wreck for something to be done?
We applaud the fact that improvements to the bridge are now becoming a reality, and it indicates that government can be responsive to its citizens.
However, if those responsible for Belton’s roads truly care about public safety, they will be proactive in preventing disasters instead of just responding to the aftermath.