Residents want to save historic bridge over Colorado River in Wharton

May 14, 2013 4:54:54 PM PDT
An unstable bridge in Wharton County has been found unfit to be used. Right now, it's shut down temporarily, but the Texas Department of Transportation is threatening to knock it down for good. But that isn't sitting well with some community members.

The Business 59 bridge over the Colorado River was shut down by the Department of Transportation about nine months ago after a study showed it is in severe need of a repair. Its future is now uncertain. Demolition is one option, but some say it should be saved.

It's the road which those who first settled in Wharton are said to have taken. In 1930, the bridge over the Colorado River was built.

"There's a story that maybe Bonnie and Clyde drove across it once," said Marilyn Sebesta, an advocate for the bridge.

Nine months ago, however, the TxDOT found potential issues with its structural integrity and the bridge was closed. Traffic now moves in both directions on an adjacent, newer two-lane bridge which used to just flow north. The future of the older bridge is now uncertain.

"They were talking about tearing it down and I thought, 'Oh I hate to see them tear it down!'" Sebesta said.

Sebesta took her concerns recently to Wharton City Council, arguing that it could even be good for tourism to keep the bridge.

"I think that when people come to visit towns, they don't come to see new buildings or structures. They like to see old things that they can remember from their childhood," she said.

There is talk of turning the bridge into a walking or biking trail. It's one option that some say would be a great solution.

"We have much history here and we want to preserve it. We think it's good not only for us now but for the future," said Millie Jones, former executive director of the Wharton County Chamber of Commerce.

The only way to protect their future, some think, is to preserve the past.

"It's something that just adds to that atmosphere," said David Schroeder with the Wharton Economic Development Corporation.

Those who live in the area say part of the draw there is the charm is Wharton's small town, old-time feel. Think about it, advocates say; the bridge was built during the Great Depression. It stands today still -- a testament to all the triumphs and tragedies since. It'd be a shame, they say, to let that be destroyed.

"Because once it's gone, we can never replace it," Sebesta said.

There is at least one person opposed to making this a hiking/biking trail. He fears it will breed drug dealing and illicit activity at the park adjacent to the bridge.

TxDOT is still deciding what to do with the bridge.

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