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The Suburbanite
  • Postcard from Bethlehem Twp.: Bridge nears end of the road

  • Where access is denied motorists still can see Riverland Avenue Bridge. For decades it has spanned the Tuscarawas River in utilitarian style — its low steel trusses looking strong and secure. But its life will not last much longer. Looks can be deceiving, where strength is concerned.

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  • "ROAD CLOSED” warn two signs on Riverland Avenue SW at Rockhill Avenue.
    Where access is denied motorists still can see Riverland Avenue Bridge. For decades it has spanned the Tuscarawas River in utilitarian style — its low steel trusses looking strong and secure.
    But its life will not last much longer. Looks can be deceiving, where strength is concerned.
    A project is underway to replace the bridge and straighten the road. Work should be completed before the end of the year.
    “It’s in really bad shape, especially the foundation,” said Scott Basinger, bridge engineer for the Stark County Engineer’s office. “And if you come off the southern end, there’s a big vertical curve, a pretty severe drop. So we’ll get rid of that in addition to straightening the road.”
    This is an interesting bridge — scenic enough to be pictured above the compass point on the Stark County map. The surface of the Tuscarawas River reflects the structure’s late-1800s style.
    “It’s from the era of the 1870s,” Basinger estimated.
    Records show that the south foundation and one truss were replaced in 1913. In 1957, all of the steel trusses were replaced, said Basinger. But age does not necessarily make the span unique.
    “There are a number of bridges like it in Ohio,” said Basinger. “It’s not too historical.”
    Paint peels on some of the bridge’s surface. Graffiti has been sprayed in other spots. The guardrail between the bridge and road edge has deteriorated and the surface of Riverland Avenue as it crosses the bridge is patched. The foundations that support the structure, with the water of the Tuscarawas flowing in ripples around them, is of questionable reliability.
    The bridge’s grandness, really, is in the knowledge that the structure has done its job for so many decades.
    Lois Speicher grew up in a nearby home that her parents constructed from a small schoolhouse. Speicher, who now lives with her husband in that house, can recall flooding of the Tuscarawas River. The water rose enough to cause residents to paddle boats in order to leave homes near Riverland Avenue Bridge. But she can’t remember the bridge itself being impassable.
    Now Speicher, who crossed the bridge most of the times she had traveled to nearby Navarre through the years, will need to turn her car toward Rockhill Avenue for a few months.
    Work already has begun to replace the bridge. Ohio Edison workers spent days this week relocating utility poles. New steel girders are piled near the bridge. Trees surrounding the structure were trimmed to allow room for work on both the old and new spans.
    “The south abutment will be pretty much in the same spot and the bridge will veer off northwest,” said Basinger.
    Page 2 of 2 - What was old will be new again in about nine months. This bridge, too, will have a sturdy kind of beauty. And it will be ready to span decades of its own.