In November 2019, the Ohio Department of Transportation made it clear: If the historic Roche de Boeuf Bridge was to be saved, the department would need help coming up with the $15 million to renovate it – or find a buyer willing to assume the liability of a structure that is crumbling.
On June 30 this year, it looked as if someone would save the 113-year-old bridge when Sarah Heidelberg had the winning bid of $6,500 in an auction, but she later withdrew the offer. Brothers Lance and Josh Shepherd, who offered $6,000 at the June auction, were given two extensions on a deadline to come up with a feasible plan that included renovation and insurance coverage or demolition.
By the December 2 deadline, it was clear that a plan was not forthcoming. On December 3, ODOT announced plans to proceed with demolition – at an estimated cost of over $2.2 million.
“ODOT’s mission is to safely move people and goods from place to place. At one time, this bridge supported that mission. The bridge now, however, serves no purpose for transportation, and in its deteriorated state poses a risk to the public,” said Patrick McColley, deputy director for ODOT District 2.
It is estimated the process will take at least a year until removal will begin, and there will be more information about the project prior to removal.
“We understand the community’s affection for this bridge and know this is not the desired outcome, but ODOT cannot justify spending millions of dollars in additional taxpayer money on restoring a structure that does not serve a transportation purpose,” McColley said.
The bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, was built in 1908 as a trolley line that was abandoned in 1937. It was briefly used as an automobile crossing during World War II when the Mechanic Street bridge collapsed but has sat unused since 1946.
In the process of researching the bridge, ODOT realized the state has owned the bridge since 1943 – not a railroad or the company that built it, as ODOT assumed earlier. So, while most residents prefer to let the bridge age gracefully and fall into the river at its own pace – or renovate it – the state does not want to assume the cost of renovations or the liability.
It’s not the first time an attempt was made to save the bridge. In 1974, the Roche de Boeuf Bridge Historical Society was formed to raise $300,000 to save it. When those efforts failed the group dissolved, according to Diana Waugh, who was a member of the group at the time.
“When it comes to asking for money, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” she said.
The Waterville Historical Society recently worked with a filmmaker on a brief documentary of the bridge for History in Your Own Backyard. This will be shared on YouTube and in libraries within the next few weeks, according to filmmaker Satolli Glassmeyer. He is still seeking funds to cover the cost of the documentary.