I fell in love with bridges because of this bridge.
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.
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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