I fell in love with bridges because of this bridge.

Public domain image by Wikipedia user Nyttend

In 1987 I was a junior in college and I had a girlfriend at Indiana University. My buddy Doug also had a girlfriend at IU — and he had a car. He generously let me ride along every time he drove to Bloomington.

Terre Haute and Bloomington are connected by State Road 46. It rolls and winds gently through the countryside. It’s truly a lovely drive; make it if you’re ever out that way.

I never paid any attention to bridges until Doug and I started making this trip. Just west of tiny Bowling Green, State Road 46 crosses the Eel River. Starting in 1933, it did so over this two-span Parker through truss bridge.

Passing through this bridge became a quiet highlight of the trip. I probably never mentioned it to Doug. I came to enjoy the shadows the sun cast through the overhead trusses as we passed.

I came to enjoy other truss bridges in my travels. Soon I was curious about other kinds of bridges. My inner bridgefan had been awakened.

A regular inspection in 2011 found some failed gusset plates, critical to the bridge’s safety. They were repaired in a one-month closure. Then in 2012 more structural problems were found, leading to a three-month closure for repairs. But the Indiana Department of Transportation could see that this bridge would soon need either a thorough restoration — or replacement.

I’ll cut to the chase: INDOT chose replacement. People who lived near the bridge wanted it restored. They rightly pointed out that this bridge was on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its association with settlement and economic development in the county. Their arguments only delayed the inevitable. In 2019, this old bridge was removed, and this bridge was built.

Replacement SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green

It’s been years since I had been out this way. Since moving to Indianapolis in the mid 1990s, I had little call to drive the road between Bloomington and Terre Haute! But in August I met one of my sons at a state park near his home for a long hike. Because of COVID-19, we hadn’t seen each other in at least six months. We were long overdue. That state park is on State Road 46.

After our hike, my son needed to be on his way. I had a couple hours to kill, so I plotted a long drive and went on my way. My first destination was this bridge. I knew not seeing the old truss bridge would be challenging. Fortunately, SR 46 is just as charming a drive today as ever. Enjoying the drive took some of the sting out when I came upon the new bridge.

I’ve lamented modern bridges before: they stir no hearts. Their utilitarian design probably makes them less expensive to build and maintain. As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. Also, when this one has outlived its useful life, nobody will protest its demolition and replacement.

I’ll say this much in praise of the new bridge: it’s plenty wide. The old bridge’s deck was just 23.6 feet wide. Encountering an oncoming semi in there always felt like an uncomfortably close encounter! Actually, those semis are a big part of what make old truss bridges like these obsolete. Trucks just weren’t as big and heavy when these bridges were built. Today’s semis simply wore these bridges out faster. The new bridge offers no eye candy, but it is stout enough to take on any vehicle the modern era can throw at it.

Because of the bridge’s historic status, all is not lost. It was dismantled and will be relocated to a park near Nashville, Indiana, where it will serve as 2 single-span pedestrian bridges. When I hear that this project is complete, I’ll make a trip to see — and experience this old bridge once again.

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24 responses to “Goodbye to the bridge that kindled my love of bridges”

  1. brandib1977 Avatar

    It seems that we could find a way to create more interesting designs of many things and still keep the cost down. I feel that way about all sorts of things – bridges, cars, public buildings. Sigh.

    In Ohio, ODOT has a sort of graveyard for old bridges and they’ve been used in many rail trail or pedestrian trail projects including one near me. It’s a nice way to salvage the old and save other entities money as building a new bridge is way more costly than recycling the old. Maybe your old bridge will meet a similar fate?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We’re pretty good about reusing old bridges here as well. This one is going to a park in nearby Nashville. There was a big study done about how to keep this bridge here, including restoring it and also twinning it (putting a bridge alongside it for one lane of traffic). There were challenges with all of those options. So they replaced the bridge.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Time marches on, I suppose. It’s disappointing that it couldn’t be kept in its original place but I am glad to know it will have new life someplace else.

  2. Ben Cotton Avatar

    I remember that bridge! I made that trip a few times in high school for cross country meets and to visit my uncle who was a professor at Rose Hulman at the time. That was the first truss bridge I ever drove over.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s the first truss bridge I remember driving over. I’m a Rose graduate — who was your uncle?

      1. Ben Cotton Avatar

        Bill Seyfried. He did he undergrad there circa 82-86 and came back as a professor for a few years in the mid 90s.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Nice. I didn’t know him but we probably overlapped in our undergrad years.

  3. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    Those massive beams under the new bridge should outlast the old one by many decades, especially if they are Corten steel or powder coated. That has to be a consideration as well as the tonnage capacity difference. Still, I am glad to hear the old one will be reused, even if in two pieces.

    This makes me think of Tunkhannuck viaduct on the former Delaware Lackawanna & Western mainline in eastern Pennsylvania and the Erie RR’s Starrucca viaduct. Both massive, high stone or concrete structures built across deep valleys in early 20th and mid 19th century respectively. They are still in daily use today. The railroads were expanding at the time, and so built for the future needs. Governmental units tend to build for today’s needs and let the future worry about itself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good point: governments tend to build for the shorter haul. They have different budget constraints.

    2. Dan Cluley Avatar
      Dan Cluley

      One big advantage with railroad bridges is the lack of road salt.

  4. Dan James Avatar

    Loved the happy ending of the bridge being relocated in a new home. There’s a Listed building in our district that was moved in its entirety to a new location some years back. I have no idea how they did it but I’m glad it was preserved.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In my hometown, they moved an entire courthouse a block away to build a new one. It can be done!

  5. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    I guess the new bridge is somewhat attractive in its simplicity and engineering. Not something most people would pull over to make a photo of. It’s nice that the old bridge is getting a second life. And in a place where it might be more appreciated.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      For what it is, it’s a strong design. I look forward to visiting the old bridge in its new home.

  6. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    I would add that those girder bridges were great to drive over when you could see through the girders to the water, but when safety crash barriers were added, probably as much for the safety of the bridge as for the people driving, they lost some of their allure.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, I miss the railings that you could see through. It sure seems like they could make those safe enough. But I’m no civil engineer.

  7. M.B. Henry Avatar

    While I’m sure the new one is an upgrade in safety, it certainly isn’t in looks! :( Glad to hear the old bridge will live again in the park!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This is the kind of bridge that gets built today. They aren’t pretty, but they’re that right intersection of building cost, maintenance cost, and longevity.

  8. jimhanes Avatar

    Know what you mean. The old green steel bridge across the Wabash River in Terre Haute is gone, as are the two steel bridges over Honey Creek, south of TH

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Bridges do wear out. But I wish they maintained them better so they’d wear out later.

  9. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    that’s really wonderful to hear the old bridge will have a new life elsewhere, maybe it’s the next best thing to in-place historic preservation. around here I think something like that bridge relocation would be far tougher to pull off because of modern seismic standards. yet the repurposing is so wonderfully logical, a great civic asset

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, we don’t have to worry about seismic standards out here in middle America!

  10. Peggy Avatar

    Well that is sad and a bit shocking, but it does the job I suppose :-(

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It does the job better than the bridge it replaced — it’s wider and can accommodate heavier vehicles. But still, it’s sad to lose the old trusses.

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