This Wabash River bridge, the only link to Illinois from the remote, far-southwestern Indiana town of New Harmony, has been closed since 2012.
Opened in 1930, the Harmony Way Bridge was an important link between rural southeastern Illinois and commerce centers in southwestern Indiana. Privately owned at first, in 1941 the U.S. government bought the bridge and established the White County Bridge Commission to own and operate it. Always a toll bridge, it operated in the black. But it was not so profitable that it could receive the level of maintenance it began to need as the decades passed. Near-Herculean efforts to find deep funding sources never succeeded.
The bridge first closed in 2007 after inspectors found cracks in its support piers. Money was found somehow for the repairs and the bridge reopened in 2008. When a 2012 inspections revealed an additional $6 million in repairs, the owners couldn’t raise the funds.
Losing the Harmony Way Bridge was no small matter for the people of New Harmony and the surrounding area in Illinois. The nearest Wabash River bridge is on Interstate 64 to the north, a 12-mile drive on the Indiana side and a 13-mile drive on the Illinois side. That’s an inconvenience for residents for sure. But farm vehicles are prohibited on Interstates. Any farmer needing to cross the Wabash needs to detour almost 23 miles on the Indiana side, or 29 miles on the Illinois side, to reach a bridge to the south.
I drove across this bridge once. I had no real reason to visit Illinois from New Harmony, but I was curious to experience this narrow old bridge. The bridge runs slightly uphill until you encounter the overhead trusses. The deck is just 20 feet wide, which is mighty narrow by today’s standards. Oncoming cars felt awfully close as they passed. After passing through the bridge’s four truss spans, a long, flat approach span on the Illinois side ended at a toll booth where $1 was collected. That being that, I turned around and headed back. I had to pay another dollar to get back on the bridge. What price curiosity?
Several efforts have been made to reopen the bridge, including one currently underway, but none have borne fruit. Yet.
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