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A Bridge Too Near
(Fayette County)

or "Progress"
comes to Colorado County

by John Troesser

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Ehlinger bridge and wildflowers
The Bridge on Ehlinger Rd
Three women on bridge vintage photo.Ellenger Bridge razed
Left - The Bridge on Ehlinger Rd, Colorado County, May 2000
Right - Three women on the Bridge, circa 1920
This story might also be called A Bridge Too Late, since it's due to be destroyed in the very near future. It will be replaced of course, with a spanking new soulless bridge that conforms to thousands of others that you drive over and never remember.

The bridge is in Colorado County, but barely. The daily traffic count is estimated at fewer than 100 cars and trucks. It's far away enough from Columbus that most people who reside there are unaware of it's existence.

The bridge and its neighbors have a shared history. It continues to charm people even today. Cycling clubs reroute their weekend rides to include this bridge as a photo opportunity. Current Houstonians might pause for a photo, to send it home as proof that there actually is a safe place to ride in Texas, and that there is a Texas countryside. On summer days the bridge, with its Erector-Set superstructure and the aging trees that grew up along it's side provide a mottled shade to the occasional motorist or rare cyclist.

Ehlinger bridge neighborhood
Mr. Bridge's neighborhood

The bridge has not been condemned, the road isn't being widened and as far as we know, neither bridge nor road are included in the highway expansion projects of NAFTA. But the money seems to be there, so why not spend it?

The County Commissioner who has signed the death warrant has said he is "progressive." While that sounds nice, so did "Urban Renewal" in its day. If you're too young to remember urban renewal, it was a period in the late 50s, throughout the 60s, and into the 70s when buildings were removed because they looked old and that embarrassed "progressive" people. Go to the cities and look at the gaping holes where buildings once stood. In many cases there are no holes because entire blocks were leveled. Progress was counted in increased parking spaces.

This very year, which people are celebrating as the new millennium, what theme does the LCRA choose for their calendar? Bridges. What could they have been thinking? And most of the featured bridges are old and un-progressive looking. The Commissioner is no doubt embarrassed for them.

The symbolism of bridges is universal. They represent solutions, compromise, success and overcoming obstacles. This bridge, which will fall somewhere around its 80th birthday, could be made structurally sound for a lot less than the cost of a new bridge.

Years from now, residents of both Colorado and Fayette counties can go to their respective museums, (if they haven't been consolidated into one huge one in Austin) and see photos of the old bridges and wonder what happened to them. The answer will probably be - "they were determined to be unsafe and ugly and were replaced by edict of progressive county commissioners."

We spoke with Steve Sadowsky of the Texas Department of Transportation, Environmental Affairs Division, who is actually an Architectural Historian. Steve returned our call promptly and answered all of our questions and more. He explained that TxDot's evaluation of the bridge showed that repairs made to the bridge over the years, have compromised it's integrity. Officially it "doesn't function as a truss." TxDot can only report their findings. The ultimate decision rests with Colorado County and their progressive commissioners. Mr. Sadowsky said that he has received more letters about this bridge than any other in recent memory. Please direct your letters to Colorado County and stop bothering Steve.

According to State statistics, Texas has 48,500 bridges - more than any other state. One third are on county and city roads. By the end of this year, TxDoT hopes to have maps available on the Internet so that bridge locations and weight limits are immediately available to anyone. Funding for county and city bridge improvements has nearly doubled from 26 million dollars last year to over 50 million dollars this year.

TxDoT has proposed a plan to speed upgrades so that 7,200 bridges can be brought up to "school bus" standards sooner. Work on the Ehlinger Road bridge is scheduled for sometime late this summer.

Our thanks to Fayetteville Historian Louis Polansky for making us aware of the Ehlinger Bridge and for driving us to, from and over the span, so that we could write this article.

Thanks also to Steve Sadowsky for returning our call, answering our questions and telling us about other bridge projects that TxDot is involved in that should result in happier endings.

Copyright John Troesser

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Published May 28, 2000
Revised June 2, 2000

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