Tuesday, August 26, 2003

So long, Shortway: Bridge takes dive into river history

Time takes toll: Span from buggy era is gone in 4 seconds

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A historic bridge linking two Northern Kentucky cities and spanning three centuries dropped with a bang Monday morning.


Today's implosion
imgVideo from WCPO
It took just five charges and 23.5 pounds of copper-clad explosives in wooden boxes to bring down the Shortway Bridge, one of the region's last ties to the streetcar era. For 111 years, the former toll bridge spanned the Licking River in various incarnations.

Dozens watched just after 8 a.m. as 300 tons of rusty blue-gray steel linking 11th Street in Newport with 12th Street in Covington collapsed in four seconds.

On both sides of the 360-foot bridge, spectators wielding cameras and carrying coffee mugs gathered behind yellow police caution tape to watch Greater Cincinnati's first major bridge implosion in 11 years. When the Shortway disappeared in a black cloud of smoke, onlookers cheered and applauded.

"I thought it would start at one corner and go to the other, but it went all in one pop," said Raymond Lopez, 55. He watched from East 12th Street in Covington. "It really didn't last long at all."

The Licking Valley Girl Scout Bridge, about 100 feet from the Shortway, was closed at 7:30 a.m. to make sure no one was injured by debris. It reopened at 9:15 a.m., when state bridge inspectors pronounced the new span damage-free. The Licking River was expected to reopen to boat traffic about 1,000 feet north and south of the demolished bridge early this morning.

One of the first to walk across the Girl Scout Bridge after the demolition was Covington resident Adonica Flack.

"When I was a little girl, we used to fight over who'd get to throw the change in the toll booth," the 32-year-old Covington woman said. "I hate to see that bridge go. It's so historic. A lot of people around here have memories of it."

From her vantage point on Ky. 9 in Newport, Pam Matthews also recalled riding over the Shortway when it was a toll bridge. "My dad used to avoid it," she said.

The Shortway, also known as the 12th Street Bridge, collapsed during its 1892 construction, killing 31 workers. The narrow, two-lane span was rebuilt in 1914 to accommodate heavier streetcars.

For decades, the prime east-west route through Covington and Newport was the toll bridge. In the early 20th century, the Shortway's operators charged 5 cents for mules and buggies. The toll had risen to 20 cents by 1986, when the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet acquired the bridge and eliminated the toll.

The relic from the days of horses and trolleys closed for good on April 2, 2001. Six months later, the Shortway was replaced by the $10.2 million, four-lane Licking Valley Girl Scout Bridge.

On Sunday, workers from Demtech - a DuBois, Wyo., demolition company that's imploded about 650 bridges throughout the United States - rigged the Shortway with explosives so it would fall into the Licking in six pieces when detonated. On Monday, a crane barge pulled the bridge sections from the river and deposited them at a Newport scrap yard for recycling.

"It went down neat and clean," Demtech's owner, Scott Gustafson, said of the Shortway job.

"This is one of the heaviest-built bridges we've brought down,'' said Gustafson's son, Cody. "It's 1 and 5/8-inch steel.''

Frances Kelly was amazed at how quickly the Shortway came down. In 1992, the 49-year-old Florence resident watched crews implode the Central Bridge over the Ohio in sections over several months.

"I wasn't expecting it to go all at once," Kelly said of the Shortway's four-second demise. "It seems kind of funny to look over there and not see the (Shortway) Bridge any more."

"That bridge has been there longer than I've been alive," said Utah Eversole, who watched the implosion from his front porch on Covington's East 12th Street. "We used to play in the street and put pennies on the streetcar tracks and watch them get flattened."

Latonia resident Walter Soward had mixed feelings about the Shortway's demise.

"I won't miss the toll or the sharp turn on the (Newport side of) the bridge," said the 75-year-old Newport Steel retiree. "But I will miss the memories. This morning, I relived 15 years of crossing that bridge. It won't be the same without it."


Bill Croyle contributed to this report. E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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