New path: Bridge gets 2nd life as part of People Trail

A once-dilapidated bridge from Clifty Township hasn’t looked this good in 100 years.

On Wednesday, weather permitting, three cranes will hoist the newly refurbished old Newbern Bridge into place over Haw Creek, just south of the 25th Street Bridge.

“It looks almost as if it’s brand new,” Bartholomew County Highway engineer Danny Hollander said after the bridge was reassembled, piece by piece.

Now featuring a bright-red color, the 107-year-old structure will become part of a new Columbus People Trail extension that’s expected to open by mid-October.

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After the old bridge was completely disassembled, each piece was transported to a specialty metal shop in northern Indiana, project consultant D. Eric Brunn said.

New parts were substituted for pieces that could not be salvaged, said Brunn, who works for the Columbus-based engineering consulting firm Strand Associates.

Old rivets were taken out, new bolts were put in, and rusted joints were replaced, Hollander said.

“If you saw how deteriorated the original bridge was, you really appreciate what a great job the contractor, shop workers, painters — everybody has done,” Brunn said.

Despite the extensive amount of work, Hollander estimates about 95 percent of the original Newbern Bridge remains.

Anticipating an audience for Wednesday’s event, Hollander is urging spectators to watch only from the Lincoln Park side of Haw Creek — and avoid the east side where most work crews from Dave O’Mara Construction will be stationed.

Relocation is expected to begin first thing in the morning, but Hollander anticipates it will take up to four hours for the cranes to complete their work.

Workers have a 22-page list of technical steps that must be followed in a specific order to successfully achieve the move, the highway engineer said.

Once placed over Haw Creek, temporary connections and other devices that include rubber pads will be used to hold the bridge in place until the crossing is permanently secured onto the foundation, Hollander said.

Pre-assembled wood decking, now stacked up in an unused section of a parking lot off Midway Street, will be put onto the bridge in the weeks to come.

For Brunn, Wednesday will mark the end of an almost-20-year effort full of a variety of struggles and delays to find the historic structure a new future, he said.

“I’m anticipating that I’m going to feel quite a bit of relief,” Brunn said.

While the structure will carry only bicyclists and pedestrians, the bridge will still require maintenance at least every 20 years, county commissioner Larry Kleinhenz said. But once the bridge is open, long-term maintenance will become the responsibility of the City of Columbus, Hollander said.

In late February 2015, three cranes lifted the historic bridge from its foundations on both sides of Clifty Creek near the Newbern United Methodist Church. The replacement bridge along County Road 850E was completed in the early fall of 2015.

Eighty percent of all costs are being paid by federal funds administered by the state, while 20 percent comes from local funds.

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1910: Original bridge constructed over Clifty Creek along County Road 850N on the northwest side of Newbern. Originally built for trains, the bridge was later modified for vehicular traffic.

1982: Bridge reconstructed.

1999: Bartholomew County Commissioners vote to replace the aging bridge and $960,000 in federal funding is acquired for the project.

2001: Archaeologists uncover more than 350 artifacts under Clifty Creek at the site. Replacement is delayed.

2003: Despite concerns over deterioration, the 12-ton weight limit for the Newbern Bridge is maintained.

2004: Indiana first lady Nancy Kernan announces Bartholomew County will receive a $584,000 state grant to refurbish the existing Newbern bridge once it is replaced.

2005: Amount set aside for construction of a new Newbern Bridge rises to $1.25 million.

2010: Proposal emerges that the old bridge could be used as part of the Columbus People Trails, spanning Haw Creek south of 25th Street.

2014: A determination is made to close the 104-year-old bridge the first full week of November.

2015: Historic Newbern Bridge taken apart, transported on flatbed trucks to Lincoln Park in Columbus, where it will be stored prior to restoration.

2016: County approves funds needed to restore the bridge for its use as a pedestrian path.

2017: By mid-October, the 106-year-old structure will become part of a new Columbus People Trail extension.