Over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, my dog Gracie and I explored the National Road all the way across Ohio. That road is now US 40 in most places. I’m bringing the long trip report over from my old Roads site.
Columbus has long been known for its beautiful bridges across the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. Built in the early 20th century, these multi-span concrete arch bridges frequently had open spandrels and lovely decorative touches that helped create a vibrant and beautiful downtown.
And then, one by one, city officials started knocking them down and building new bridges. Only a couple of the old bridges remain. The truth was, many of these bridges were crumbling and needed to be either restored or replaced. City officials chose to replace, which of course made many in Columbus unhappy as those bridges were part of the city’s identity.
The 1937 Main Street Bridge, which carried the old National Road across the Scioto River, was among those razed. Because of its open spandrels and art deco design touches, its destruction was a real loss.
At least the city commemorated this bridge by placing its builder’s and dedication plaques on a concrete marker at the replacement bridge’s west end.
Fortunately for the people of Columbus, city officials intended the replacement bridges to have their own beauty and give a new look and feel to downtown. The Main Street Bridge was to be unique, with a grand arch soaring high above its two decks – one for motor vehicles, and one for pedestrians. Unfortunately, nobody was happy when the bridge cost $40 million more than budgeted and Columbus residents found themselves on the hook to pay for $15 million of the overage. The bridge was completed in 2010 and opened to one-way traffic. It was finally opened to two-way traffic two days before I visited it.
The arch is dramatic.
As I stood on the pedestrian deck with my camera, a steady stream of bicyclists rode by. I waited for several minutes for a break in the action, as I generally prefer my road and bridge shots to be free of cars, bicycles, and people so you can really see the road or bridge. (It does sometimes occur to me that the shot would be more photographically interesting with cars, bicycles, and people in them.) Notice how the pedestrian deck is higher than the motor-vehicle deck.
If the old bridge had to be replaced, this is just the kind of bridge to build in its place. 100 years from now, assuming Columbus is wise enough to maintain it well, I say that city residents will feel proud of this and the other new bridges, because they will long have been part of the city’s identity.
Speaking of other new bridges, this is the new Rich Street bridge under construction. It is meant to replace the old Town Street bridge, built in 1917 to replace an earlier bridge at Rich Street. The new Rich Street bridge runs northwest to connect with Town Street, while the original Rich Street bridge connected to Rich Street on the other side of the Scioto. The new Main Street bridge connects to Rich Street today.
After crossing the Main Street Bridge, the National Road follows Starling Street north to Broad Street, where it turns left and rejoins US 40.
Lots of streets in downtown Columbus were closed because of bridge construction and associated reroutings. The Main Street bridge itself was closed to traffic this day. After driving around confused for fifteen minutes, to great relief I finally found Broad Street and followed it across the Scioto River to where the National Road met it and assumed its path out of town.
On my way out of Columbus I passed perhaps the best known of Columbus’s old motels, the 40 Motel. (Here’s its sign when lit.)
Here’s a wide shot showing the motel itself.
There’s even a little bit of neon on the building.
Beyond Columbus, things get mighty sparse on the National Road.
Next: a historic tavern in Madison County.
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