His­toric truss bridge to be re­placed

New span will be built 10 feet from the last func­tion­ing Whip­ple truss bridge in Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By J.B. Smith Waco Tri­bune-Her­ald

Cross­ing the North Bosque River bridge at Clifton City Park can be a white-knuckle ex­pe­ri­ence for the unini­ti­ated.

The wood and asphalt deck­ing creaks, the rusted truss above be­gins to rat­tle and hum, and it’s hard not to think about tum­bling 50 feet into the shin­ing river below.

But as lo­cal his­tory buff Leon Smith sees it, that’s the charm of the Whip­ple truss bridge, which has spanned the river since 1884.

“Gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion of Clifton and Bosque County peo­ple have passed over this bridge and en­joyed it,” he said, lean­ing on the rusted bridge rail. “In some ways, it’s a scary bridge to cross be­cause it’s so nar­row. It’s like a ride at Six Flags.”

Any­one who would con­sider that a thrill had bet­ter hurry to Clifton be­fore it’s too late.

Work be­gan in July on a mod­ern steel and con­crete bridge about 10 feet away that will soon re­place the last func­tion­ing Whip­ple truss bridge in Texas.

The $1.45 mil­lion project is be­ing funded mostly with a fed­eral trans­porta­tion grant ad­min­is­tered by the Texas Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

The project won’t raze the his­toric bridge, which is owned by Bosque County. But once the new bridge is in place, the old one will be sta­bi­lized and stripped of its deck­ing and ap­proaches, leav­ing it as an in­ac­ces­si­ble “mon­u­ment.”

That doesn’t sit well with Smith and other lo­cal preser­va­tion­ists, who had en­vi­sioned the bridge as a cen­ter­piece of her­itage tourism for this town of about 3,500 peo­ple. Even if the town can even­tu­ally raise enough money to re­store the bridge, he said, the new one would de­tract from it.

‘Built by our founders’

“This is a bridge built by our founders,” said Smith, a for­mer mayor and Clifton Record edi­tor who is now on the Bosque County His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion. “I can pic­ture them coming over, look­ing over the sides, and it’s kind of in­spi­ra­tional. To have a new bridge 10 feet from the old one is go­ing to spoil the view.”

Clifton Mayor Jim Heid, who was elected in May, said that de­ci­sion can’t be re­versed, but he would like to see a cam­paign to re­claim the old truss bridge as a bike-pedes­trian bridge.

“It’s a his­tor­i­cal trea­sure, and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will be kicking them­selves if no­body made a con­certed ef­fort to save it,” Heid said. “There’s too much of our his­tory that’s go­ing by the way­side.”

TxDOT of­fi­cials bid the bridge in April, just shy of the dead­line for spend­ing fed­eral funds for it. The Fed­eral High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion pledged money for the new bridge in 2000, but the project has been be­set with de­lays, in­clud­ing is­sues about how to prop­erly han­dle the his­toric bridge.

Michael Bolin, trans­porta­tion and plan­ning di­rec­tor for TxDOT’s Waco district, said the old bridge could not be retro­fit­ted to mod­ern stan­dards with­out com­pro­mis­ing its his­toric in­tegrity, and the fed­eral grant required that the new one be built next to the old one.

He said the so­lu­tion might not please every­one, but it bal­ances pub­lic safety, his­toric preser­va­tion and cost con­cerns.

“It pre­serves this unique his­tor­i­cal struc­ture but also pro­tects the ac­cess to the route there,” he said. “No doubt, it’s a mix of the old and the new, but we’re go­ing to re­tain the part of the struc­ture that makes it his­toric.”

He said the new bridge wouldn’t block the view from the truss bridge, if it’s ever re­stored, and the dis­tinc­tive trusses of the old bridge will still be vis­i­ble from the park and river.

Bolin said the old Whip­ple bridge isn’t in im­mi­nent dan­ger of fail­ing, but its struc­tural in­tegrity de­clines by the year. Its piers and foun­da­tions have eroded, its iron joints have rusted away, and its metal com­po­nents have be­come de­formed.

Bolin said the “mon­u­ment­ing” of the bridge will re­place some bolts and riv­ets and pro­tect the piers, slow­ing its de­cay. But a more thor­ough ren­o­va­tion cost­ing an ad­di­tional $1.2 mil­lion would be required to make it safe for pedes­trian use in the long term, he said.

‘Only go­ing to be worse’

“It will con­tinue to de­grade as time goes on,” Bolin said. “It’s only go­ing to be worse to­mor­row.”

Clifton res­i­dents gen­er­ally seem to be in fa­vor of restor­ing the bridge, but he doesn’t ex­pect such a project soon.

He noted that the truss bridge is just out­side the city limits and be­longs to Bosque County, which is not in­ter­ested in spend­ing more money on it.

Even if the city were to ac­quire it from the county, rais­ing the money wouldn’t be easy, Bolin said.

Un­der the terms of the fed­eral grant, if the money nor­mally used for de­mo­li­tion is used to make the bridge a mon­u­ment, as TxDOT is do­ing, the struc­ture will no longer be el­i­gi­ble for fed­eral trans­porta­tion funds, such as hike­and-bike grants.

There are no hike-and-bike trails near the bridge or along ei­ther side of the North Bosque River.

Deb Tul­man, a busi­ness­woman and county His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion mem­ber, said she would like to lead a cam­paign to re­store the bridge, but she said fundrais­ing could be a hard sell.

She said the ad­ja­cent 80-acre Clifton City Park is un­der­used and un­der­de­vel­oped, and she thinks the new bridge will de­tract from the aes­thet­ics of the old one.

Bosque County Judge Don Pool said the county would be willing to work with any­one to re­fur­bish the bridge for pedes­trian use, in­clud­ing the city of Clifton.

“There’s a lot of his­tor­i­cal el­e­ments to that bridge,” he said. “We didn’t just wake up and say, ‘We want to tear that bridge down.’”

The bridge is one of five Whip­ple truss bridges left in the state and the only one still open to ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic, ac­cord­ing to the Texas His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion. The de­sign was patented in 1841 by Squire Whip­ple, the first en­gi­neer to cal­cu­late load dy­nam­ics on truss bridges.

The Wrought Iron Bridge Co. of Can­ton, Ohio, built the 150foot bridge for Bosque County in 1884 for $6,456, ac­cord­ing to a state his­tor­i­cal marker.

The bridge helped farm­ers take their grain to Clifton’s grain mill on the North Bosque at the low-wa­ter dam just north of City Park.

“In Clifton, the old mill was ba­si­cally the mother ship of our town that every­thing re­volved around,” said Smith, who self-pub­lished a book about the “Old Mill.”

“It al­lowed this to be­come a pros­per­ous area, and it pro­vided jobs.”

Ash­ley Abel, Clifton Main Street man­ager, said there’s def­i­nitely a need for the new bridge to serve farm­ers and others coming in and out of Clifton.

But she said the old bridge is still an as­set, and its fu­ture de­pends on the com­mu­nity’s pri­or­i­ties.

“As long as the bridge is there, the friends of the park and His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion are al­ways look­ing for an op­por­tu­nity,” she said. “But that’s the ques­tion: Is there an in­ter­est in this?”

PHO­TOS BY ROD AYDELOTTE / WACO TRI­BUNE-HER­ALD

The Whip­ple wood-and-asphalt truss bridge near Clifton has spanned the Bosque River since 1884.

Lo­cal his­tory buff Leon Smith says of the bridge that creaks and rat­tles, “Gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion of Clifton and Bosque County peo­ple have passed over this bridge and en­joyed it. In some ways, it’s a scary bridge to cross be­cause it’s so nar­row. It’s like a ride at Six Flags.”

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