By Julie Anderson, Editor
The Worley Bridge had become a familiar friend, emitting a metallic message of squeaks and creaks that reminded many in Milam County of its storied past. Six generations had crossed the bridge, carting their families, crops, and supplies across the San Gabriel River.
Built in 1911, the 272-foot-long iron truss bridge sits adjacent to the Apache Pass river crossing along the El Camino Real, a National Historic Trail in Milam County. The property under the bridge was donated in 1911 by Frank Worley; grandson Kit Worley still owns the adjacent land.
The now-antique structure was first visualized more than a century ago when residents of the Sharp, Tracy and Duncan communities petitioned the Milam County Commissioners Court for a bridge across the San Gabriel. The one-lane bridge, 12-feet wide with 138 feet of main span and metal decking, could accommodate one vehicle at a time, up to 17,500 pounds, until its closure in the spring of 2011.
“The bridge was used until modern times to transport crops,” explained Milam County Commissioner Jeff Muegge. “If not for the bridge, cars have to use the low crossing or go all the way around to another county road. This was, and is, an important bridge.”
Following a bridge inspection in 2011, both the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and Milam County officials agreed the bridge was no longer safe. The conversation then turned to preservation versus replacement.
The group investigated a myriad of options including converting the bridge into a pedestrian crossing, restoring the bridge as a monument, or completely replacing the structure, before settling on full vehicle restoration via the Federal Highway Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement Program. Administered by TxDOT, the program calls for an 80/10/10 federal, state, county spending spread.
The Worley Bridge project will cost an estimated $1.2 million, with Milam County contributing its 10 percent via equivalent match projects (EMPs). The EMP Program allows a local government to waive its 10 percent cost participation requirement in a federal Highway Bridge Program off-system bridge project if it agrees to use an equivalent dollar amount to improve other deficient structures in its jurisdiction.
The option to restore the bridge was the least expensive choice, costing significantly less than replacing the bridge and less than restoring it as a pedestrian-only crossing, reported Milam County Judge David Barkemeyer.
Drawings were submitted to the Texas Historical Commission, the required environmental impact studies were completed, and the project was given the green light to proceed.
On Nov. 13, 2013, a 350-ton crane was used to move the 34,000-pound bridge off of its pedestal and relocate the structure to an adjacent field, where it will be restored, repainted, and then returned to its strengthened base.
The bridge is expected to reopen to light vehicular traffic in May or June 2014, and will be able to accommodate its pre-restoration 17,500 load, one vehicle at a time.
Restoring historic truss bridges for vehicular traffic is a rarity, with most such structures being restored for pedestrian use, only.
“It’s been interesting to watch this unfold,” Muegge shared, “and I think this will be a great draw for Milam County due to the historical significance.”
The Worley Bridge has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.