BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Kids in strollers, dogs on leashes and adults of all ages from both Lucas and Wood counties meandered around on bridges old and new, posed for photos and peered over the edges into the rushing water of the Maumee River.
Friday, January 31, 2020 is a day that will go down in history, as the 1948 Waterville Bridge that has served the two riverside communities for decades has closed and a new bridge has opened.
“We’ve been looking forward to this,” said Caroline Franklin, who along with her husband David has stopped by the construction site to check on the progress over the past year and a half. “When they tear down the old bridge, it will be different.”
Gary and Laura Keller of Wood County welcomed the roundabout, which alleviated congestion even before the new bridge was complete.
“It’s nice to have something that’s a straight shot through and not get stuck in traffic,” Gary said.
Jean Bargiel drives across the bridge regularly to pick up her grandchildren, Bryce and Hannah Warnimont. On Friday, she was pushing the kids in a stroller across the new bridge. Nearby, Angie Peinert Weber was taking photos to send to her parents, while friend Janet Mohrmann was just taking it all in.
“I’m excited about having a safer bridge,” Mohrmann said. “This is much safer.”
Dick Burdo looked over to the shoreline where the old Waterville School once stood. As a student attending the school, Burdo remembers seeing the building engineer look for water coming up through the floor.
“We knew where the water would come up on the pillars before it would start flooding,” Burdo said. “It didn’t come in the door; it seeped up through the floor.”
The old bridge was originally built in 1904 and collapsed in 1941. Due to a steel shortage, the bridge wasn’t renovated until the end of World War II. By the time construction started on a new bridge in February 2018, the Waterville bridge was among just four truss bridges left in Ohio.
The new bridge features 12-foot driving lanes in both directions, a protected 12-foot shared-use path on the north side and a 7-foot protected sidewalk on the south side, plus five observation platforms. Additionally featuring aesthetic light poles, arched fascia panels and decorative piers, the bridge will also receive Carruth pieces when the weather warms up.
“What would John Pray say but ‘Wow’?” Waterville Mayor Tim Pedro said of the city’s founder. “What would those early settlers say? ‘Wow. Well done. Keep moving in a positive direction.’”
During a ceremony for the new bridge, Pedro noted that Pray moved from Wood County across the river.
“We thank you for that,” Pedro told the Wood County commissioners who were attending the ceremony.
Organized by the city and the Waterville Area Chamber of Commerce, the ribbon-cutting ceremony also included remarks by Ohio Department of Transpor-tation District 2 Deputy Director Pat McColley, Gov. Mike DeWine’s Northwest Ohio liaison Christa Lutt-man, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH 5), U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH 9), State Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova Township), State Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) and Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon-Wozniak.
“Congratulations, America. This is a sign of more progress,” said Kaptur, noting that the $13 million bridge is an example of money coming back to the community.
Merrin, a former mayor of Waterville, said that the government’s primary role is to build roads, provide infrastructure and ensure safety.
“I want to thank the men and women in hard hats and vests who labored day after day in all kinds of weather,” added Ghanbari. “This is a bridge that truly bridges our two counties and our communities.”
With the new bridge open, demolition of the old bridge will begin next week, said Miller Brothers Superintendent John Isola Jr. Cranes and equipment will be on the causeway to take apart portions of the bridge a piece at a time. Some pieces of the piers will be saved for the new waterfront park.
“The teardown is critical,” he said. “We will take a segment and lower it to the ground.”
The causeway is dry for now, but it has washed out numerous times during the course of construction. In all, the workers also experienced 70 weather days due to rain, high water or extreme cold, he said.
While this year has been much milder, Isola said spring flooding is still a possibility.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said.
During the demolition, the multi-use path will remain closed while the walking path is open.