Historic bridge reopens two years after semi wreck

Historic bridge reopens two years after semi wreck
(Source: Michael Williams/ WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Michael Williams/ WAVE 3 News)

PAOLI, IN (WAVE) –  A piece of Paoli, Indiana history is back open Wednesday. The Gospel Street Bridge in Paoli came crashing down Christmas Day two years ago when a semi-truck driver well over the bridge weight limit got stuck trying to cross.

City leaders and community members braved the cold Wednesday morning, pulling away the 'road closed' barricades for the first driver to test the repaired bridge. That sight is something many in the small town have hoped to see for years now.

"Very happy the bridge is reopened," said Andy Mahler. He and his wife, Linda Lee, live just south of Paoli. The pair say they used the bridge regularly before the wreck on Christmas Day.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Truck driver sentenced for Christmas Day collapse of Paoli bridge

"It's fantastic to get this thing opened again and get it functional again," said Orange County Commission President Richard Dixon. "And people can get out, use it, enjoy it and we're just glad to be a part of it."

It's been a little more than two years since that semi-truck got stuck trying to cross the water, taking the bridge down with it. The sight is something locals say is hard to forget.

"And we got closer and we saw something that looked like a large caged animal trapped in the bridge," Mahler said. "It was this monster semi truck that had torn the top off the bridge."

"It was a total disaster. It just made everyone in the community sick," Dixon said.

Since then, Dixon and many others in the community have worked to see the bridge rebuilt and restored.

"We drive our solar powered golf cart across this bridge just about every day in the warm months and we're really looking forward to getting back on the bridge," Mahler said.

Mahler and Lee got a jump start on testing out the new bridge.

"We found that the barriers were just wide enough that we could take the golf cart around one side and across and around the other side," Mahler said.

The insurance settlements were what kept the project from moving faster, Dixon said, but people here have been willing to wait.

"Everybody's been very patient until we got this thing restored," Dixon said. "But there was a lot of fear that when this happened that we couldn't restore it, because it was such a mess. But it turned out really well, and thanking the contractor and the historian and everyone who had a part in this."

The bridge was built in 1880, ferrying horse and buggies across the water when it opened. The construction crew that rebuilt the Gospel Street Bridge estimates it took six to seven months to restore, using much of the original material for the structure.

"It's a wonderful thing, I don't know if you guys have driven over it but there's a sound that it makes because of the metal grates. It's just got personality," Mahler said.

This time, barriers dedicating the bridge to prominent Paoli philanthropists Sol Strauss and James M. Tucker also serve to block semis from bringing down the bridge again.  Now that the bridge is back open, locals say they're ready to put that accident behind them.

"A lot of water... over the bridge!" Lee said.

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