La Crosse
9° F
Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy

La Crosse parking ramps crumble

Published On: Jun 18 2013 06:40:39 PM CDT   Updated On: Jun 18 2013 07:03:10 PM CDT

Columns are cracking and chunks of brick are falling out of the Market Square parking ramp in downtown La Crosse.

It's not the only ramp showing signs of structural stress.

Assistant Director of Public Works Robert Haines calls all of the parking ramps in the city his "problem children.” But he said the biggest problem child by far is the Market Square ramp, at Fourth and Jay Streets.

The city signed an agreement when that ramp was built guaranteeing it would last for 75 years, supporting the apartments above it.

That was in 1999.

It's had structural problems since shortly after construction was complete and, in the past few years, things have been getting worse.

Haines pulled a handful of bricks out of the wall of the ramp and let them crash to the ground.

“I mean, it's just falling apart,” said Haines. “[The bricks] indicate the bigger problem, which is that panel is moving."

It's a concrete panel on the second floor of the ramp that's worrying him. The city blocked off the parking spots in front of it because Haines said it will fall eventually if the city doesn't do something.

"It's probably two inches out of alignment and we're concerned that if a car were to hit that hard enough, it might go right over and down into the alley. And that's, I'm going to say, eight tons,” said Haines.

But he said the Market Square ramp's biggest problem is in the basement, where he points out the walls attached to a weight-supporting column are moving in different directions, causing a wide crack down the column’s center.

“It's basically twisting the column and causing it to kind of fall apart," said Haines.

Haines said the parking ramps are safe right now, but 10 years down the road they could become dangerous.

Haines said it's too early to tell who’s to blame for the crumbling ramp.

"It could be poor construction practices, so the workmanship is one possibility. It could also be poor construction materials. Maybe the concrete was poor quality. Or it could be a design flaw that the engineering firm would be responsible for," said Haines.

He said the city needs a team of professional structural engineers to figure it out.

But those engineers' insight could cost about $100,000. And the repairs could carry a price tag of $500,000 -- money the city didn't budget for.

Parking Utility Board Chair Audrey Kader said that's where the city's reserve funds -- and the parking ramp fees the city plans to start charging this year -- will come in handy.

"There's no free lunch. And there certainly is no free parking ramp. Somebody has to pay for the maintenance of it, the construction of it," said Kader.

The city has budgeted more than $1 million for day-to-day parking ramp maintenance this year.

The La Crosse Center parking ramp is also showing signs of structural problems, although the original structure there was built 20 years before the Market Square ramp.