Folks in Mill City may not be dancing in the streets today, but some might take a twirl on the historic railroad bridge after learning it will receive an $8.1 million federal grant to upgrade it, the North Santiam River Bridge and Broadway Street in the heart of town.

“Grants such as this make it possible for small, rural communities to upgrade infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing population,” said Mill City Mayor Tim Kirsch. “We appreciate having Oregon’s federal delegation in our corner. Their support is appreciated and has been instrumental in helping us remain competitive for federal grant opportunities.”

City staff and volunteers have been fundraising for two years in hopes of sprucing up the railroad bridge in time for its 100th anniversary in 2019.

The bridge is a gathering spot and focal point for Mill City’s 1,865 residents.

Linn County Engineer Chuck Knoll said the funds are from the TIGER Grant program, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Mill City and Linn and Marion counties worked collaboratively to develop an application for the grant that will be matched by $500,000 from the city and $900,000 from Linn County.

“We’ve been working with Mill City trying to improve Broadway Street, which is a major collector, for some time. Among the improvement will be some really nice new lights. It’s going to look great,” Knoll said. “They also want to fix up the old railroad trestle bridge, which is now a pedestrian bridge and a focal point of the community.”

Knoll said the Linn County Road Department provided the initial engineering, scoping and design information needed for the TIGER Grant application, and Marion County prepared a detailed economic analysis and did outreach work for the effort.

County Commissioner Roger Nyquist said the grant is “neat for the community of Mill City, We’re excited for them and we commend the Linn County Road Department staff for continuing for grant opportunities like this.”

The Save Our Bridge project began more than two years ago with a target of raising $400,000 to upgrade the 120-foot-long pedestrian bridge, which was moved to Mill City in 1919.

In January, community volunteer Frances Thomas said, “The bridge is huge for our community. It’s an icon for the community, something people grow up with. They have seen that bridge as part of their landscape. It is highly used as a pedestrian walkway for those going to school or exercising.”

Although the bridge doesn’t have major structural issues, it needs some wooden structural supports replaced and a new wooden deck. It will also need to be cleaned and painted.

In its heyday, the bridge was instrumental for trains moving logs from the timber-rich Santiam Canyon to mills in and out of Linn County. The last train traveled over the bridge in 1971.

Since then, the now pedestrian-only bridge has been a backdrop for photographs, weddings, reunions, river-watching, hiking, biking and other community gatherings.

It is of a rare Phoenix Column style and was constructed in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, in 1888 and served in San Jose, California and Lake Oswego before being permanently based in Mill City.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.