Cemetery bridge has many breathing sigh of relief

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 17, 2003

"It's been a long time coming," Woodland Cemetery Board President Jerry Rowe said as he surveyed the new bridge linking the front entrance to the burial sites.

"It was tough for me to make that decision to shut it (the old bridge) down, but I crawled up underneath it and saw how bad it was. I-beams were rusted through, and I knew it was time to make a move."

That move to close the old cemetery bridge was made four years ago. Now, after a full-scale effort to finding funding for the bridge and a construction season marred by bad weather, the new span is finally complete.

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"It's beautiful," Ironton funeral director Dick Brammer said. "I took a funeral through there and everyone had such favorable comments. I think it's wonderful -- something people can be proud of. I think it's going to be a big asset to the city."

"For so many years, we've had negative things happen," Woodland Cemetery Board member and Ironton City Council chairman Jesse Roberts said. "The loss of jobs, the loss of revenue, and little things such as the bridge being closed was negative. Now we have our bridge back. Today, this is some good news."

Years of wear and tear

The old bridge was closed in June 1999, when local officials inspected the span and realized it was in no condition to handle the volume of traffic that had steadily increased over the years. Woodland Cemetery usually has at least one funeral procession coming through its gates every day.

Built in 1902, it was only projected to last 60 years. According to records on file at the Ironton City Engineer's Office, the cost of the structure at that time was $4,815.03 -- substantially less than the $1,186,710.40 required to build the new one. That first bridge was paid for through a collective effort of the City of Ironton and Upper Township trustees. The stone archway surrounding the entrance was added in 1912.

In 1978, the original span was refurbished to extend its life. By the end of the 1990's, that life was all but over.

Searching for money

After the old bridge was closed, city officials started looking for money to build a new one.

The cemetery did not have money to pay for a new bridge, and the board is limited by state law in how it could generate funds for such projects. With the city's gloomy financial situation, the prospect of finding money in the municipal budget for the bridge was an impossibility as well.

Local officials had hoped at that time to get State Issue 2 monies to pay for the design costs, but the project didn't qualify. The cemetery board instead decided to shoulder the cost of the design work to keep from jeopardizing state construction monies. The cemetery board pledged $100,000 up front to pay Woolpert, LLC for engineering and design work, with the City of Ironton kicking in an additional $10,000.

"It was very costly for us," Rowe remembered. "But we had to do it. It was the only way we could make the bridge happen."

Eighty percent of the cost of building the bridge came from the state's Small City Local Bridge Fund with the KYOVA Planning Commission adding the other 20 percent.

Rowe is quick to thank former City Engineer Joe McCallister for his work on the project.

"He got the ball rolling with the plans (for the bridge). He did a lot of the leg work," Rowe said. "He was very instrumental in us getting that bridge." Rowe also praised the work of Ohio Department of Transportation District Nine Director John Hagen for his support for the project and his efforts to secure state monies for it.

Getting down to business

Armstrong Steel Erectors of Newark began construction of the new span in May of last year. At that time, the bridge was slated to be finished by mid-November. However, mother nature had other plans. Bad weather stalled work in the late fall and again in the early months of this year. By April, state officials were promising that the new structure would be ready by Memorial Day.

The new span is wider than the old span, and built higher to keep it from being flooded. It has a sidewalk for pedestrians, and can accommodate two-way traffic that the old bridge could not.

"There should be no reason for the bridge to ever be impassable," Roberts said. "And its two lanes all the way."

It was also designed and built to look as if it were an original part of an old cemetery, blending in with the stone arch and wrought iron gates.

The cemetery board members took the opportunity during the bridge construction to embark on their own cemetery project: the entrance area was refurbished at a cost of approximately $50,000. New curbs and sidewalks built, and begonias were planted in place of shrubbery that had seen better days. The wrought iron gates are being repainted as well.

"This is one of the most beautiful entrances to any cemetery anyplace in America," cemetery board member Arno Keyes said as he surveyed the work.

Rowe said thoughts will now turn to other projects within the cemetery that have been put on the back burner while the bridge was being built. Upgrading the streets is at the top of the list.

"They were old to begin with, but when they brought in the heavy trucks to build the bridge, they (the streets) really deteriorated," Rowe said. "We'll have to work this into the budget."

A word of thanks

Board members said they appreciate the patience of the community during the years the bridge has been closed. They hope the visitors will find the wait was worth it.

"Closing the bridge was a big imposition on the public but something had to be done," Keyes said. "We appreciate people's patience. Now, due to the efforts of the state and the cemetery board and the city, we have our bridge now, and it's one of the most beautiful bridges you can find."