HEFLIN — The bridge on Cleburne County Road 18 carries motorists 188 feet across the Tallapoosa River.
Built in 1948, the one-lane span has reached retirement age. Its asphalt deck is crumbling, in some places revealing the metal framework underneath. Its paint peeling, red metal trusses bear the graffiti of local “artists.” Nonetheless, it’s a rare find worth saving, some say, and the Alabama Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration are ready to invest in its preservation.
The bridge is rare in its truss design, said David Schneider, principal of Schneider Historic Preservation, LLC. The bridge is a Warren truss bridge, known for the triangular trusses that support it, he said. The equilateral metal triangles — each of the three sides is the same length — provide support, unlike more modern bridge construction which uses concrete and steel beams for support, Schneider said. The bridge in Cleburne County was built a little later than most Warren truss bridges, he said, which were popular throughout the United States through the mid-20th century. But the bridges are disappearing as they are replaced with modern structures built to support 21st-century traffic, he added.
The bridge, about 3-and-a-half miles southeast of Heflin, is one of several Warren truss bridges that once dotted the county, Schneider said.
“They weren’t on well-traveled roads, so they hadn’t gotten around to replacing them,” Schneider said.
But now the county has a $5 million pot of grant funding from state and federal sources to replace up to 12 of its aging and obsolete bridges. This one in particular is rated as structurally deficient and functionally obsolete on the National Bridge Inventory System. It will be replaced to make way for a two-lane bridge capable of handling school bus traffic, said Shannon Robbins, Cleburne County engineer. It’s the biggest project planned for the grant money with an estimated cost of $2 million, he said.
Another bridge, on County Road 94, that the county also hopes to replace with the grant money may have some historic significance as well, but that bridge has been closed for more than 15 years, Robbins said.
“Just because it’s historic doesn’t mean it can carry today’s traffic,” Robbins said.
Yet the cost of rerouting County Road 18 to save its bridge would be prohibitive, he added.
That’s the point of offering the bridge to another group willing to maintain it as a historic feature, Schneider said.
Moving a bridge isn’t unheard of. Twenty-five years ago in Calhoun County, a covered Coldwater bridge was moved to Oxford Lake for safekeeping. The Calhoun County Commission footed the $5,000 bill.
In this case, ALDOT and the Highway Administration are offering to pay to move and install the bridge up to what they estimate as the cost of demolition.
“Whether that’s going to be enough is anybody’s guess,” Schneider said. “At least they’re making the effort.”
How far and the process by which it’s moved will determine the cost, Schneider said.
He said he’s seen bridges picked up and moved by crane. This bridge could be taken apart and moved in pieces, Schneider said.
It could be an inexpensive way to get a bridge for foot traffic and preserve a piece of history at the same time, he said.