It never fails that about the first of March I start itching to get out onto the old roads. The old roads are there all year, of course, but I prefer to drive them when it’s warm!
One of my sons is learning to drive. I usually have him chauffeur me around while I run errands, but city traffic has been unnerving for him. (His dad’s anxieties probably play a role there too.) I thought it would do him good to get out on a lightly traveled highway and find out that driving can be a pleasure. There’s no better highway for that in Indiana than US 40, the old National Road. With nearby parallel I-70 bearing the lion’s share of traffic, US 40 is often empty.
My favorite abandoned bridge is next to US 40 just beyond the Indianapolis sprawl. I’ve written about it before; check it out. There’s a good place to pull off the highway right by the bridge, so I drove to it as a convenient place to let my son start driving. But first, we explored the bridge. I had always visited this bridge in the summer, when foliage obscured it. It was great to look it over on this late-winter day when it was so visible.
This bridge was built in the early 1920s, but carried traffic for less than 20 years. In about 1940, the road was widened to four lanes and routed across two new side-by-side bridges. My educated guess is that this bridge wasn’t used because its lanes are narrow. US 40 was widened to be part of a nationwide highway network that could rapidly move troops and military equipment should it become necessary for national defense. (That’s a major reason our Interstate system was built, too.) The new bridges are a lot wider than this one, making them sufficient for the military task.
Time isn’t kind to an unmaintained bridge. Trees are growing through the crumbling deck! Concrete-arch bridges are filled with dirt underneath the deck, which must be providing the foundation for these trees’ root systems.
Shortly we got underway with my son behind the wheel. We drove to Terre Haute, had a little dinner, and then came home. My son seemed to enjoy the trip.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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