As you drive US 50 in Illinois, in several places you parallel an older alignment of the road. The state has intended at various times to build a four-lane expressway out of US 50, to the extent that new lanes have been laid down with the presumable intent of rebuilding the old lanes to carry traffic in the opposite direction. Instead, in every case the old lanes have reverted to local use.
One such segment lies just east of Clay City, which is about a third of the way across Illinois from east to west. The old road crosses three streams within two miles just before it reaches Clay City. In the mid-1990s local authorities closed the old bridges over these streams, effectively abandoning that segment of the old highway. This snippet from Google Maps shows this segment in blue and marks the three bridges.
I never get tired of being amazed by what happens to a road when it’s not maintained for 15 years. Here’s the concrete roadway leading eastbound from the eastmost bridge.
The three bridges, rusting away all, were built of steel in 1923. The first two also have unusual brick side rail sections on either end.
The first bridge, over the Big Muddy River, has developed a hole in its deck. It’s a testament to the bridge’s truss structure that an asphalt layer that thin could support the weight of traffic for 71 years.
I walked out onto the current US 50 bridge to take this photo.
The second bridge’s eastern approach is considerably overgrown.
My friend Michael was on hand taking photos as well and got me in his picture. The bridge felt very solid while I walked on it, but this photo makes it look frail, as if I might fall off at any moment.
This bridge, which crosses Little Muddy Creek, is of the same design as the first.
The third bridge is a little different from the first two, and not just because it lacks brick side rails. While the first two bridges are no-nonsense Pratt through trusses, this one’s gently curving top arch identifies it as a Parker through truss.
This bridge crosses the Little Wabash River.
There’s more to come from my US 50 trip, including an 1859 suspension bridge and a bridge that was built but never used.
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