Dresden Suspension Bridge likely to be demolished as cost to save skyrockets


By Staff Report

During a virtual public meeting Monday afternoon, the fate of a century-old bridge in northern Muskingum County was likely sealed for good.

Its existence on the National Register of Historic Places won’t help the structure, which has fallen into disrepair as state officials mostly abandoned it over the years.

Public outcry had saved the historic Dresden Suspension Bridge in the late 1980s, which resulted in the current bridge being built north of the structure, but projected costs in the millions for restoration mean the iconic feature might soon be gone for good.

Nearly two dozen public officials and individuals came together to discuss the harsh reality Monday, which left some feeling disappointed at how once again a rural county was ignored and a historic bridge was left to rust while structures in more populous counties have been saved.

Built in 1914, the Dresden Suspension Bridge replaced an earlier structure that was wiped away during the historic 1913 flood which wrecked havoc on not just Muskingum County but large parts of Ohio.

According to officials, the three-span suspension bridge is actually quite rare, a unique type of construction that never gained large popularity around the world.

Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) staff and officials explained the very bleak reality. To restore the bridge to standards that would allow pedestrian traffic, it would likely cost over $6 million dollars, to tear it down, as little as a million. That multi-million dollar investment would also not guarantee any long-term longevity for keeping the structure into the later part of the century.

The agency offered the opportunity for the county to take over the bridge, but it’s an empty invitation. As previously reported by Y-City News, Muskingum County already is disproportionately underfunded by state officials for road and bridge projects, taking on a multi-million dollar bridge project would be nearly impossible.

Unlike other historic bridges which have the opportunity to be repurposed as pedestrian and bike trail crossings, the suspension bridge links no such divides.

Should the Muskingum Recreational Trail be expanded it would head north along an old railroad track into Trinway, west to Frazeysburg and ultimately connect to the Panhandle Trail in east Licking County with connections throughout Central Ohio. There are also no towns or walkable destinates east of Dresden the bridge might justify an economic investment to connect.

Regardless, those in Dresden feel that once again bureaucrats have ignored rural Ohio. Dresden Mayor Greg Morrison said as much, quite vocally, during the meeting.

“Why was nothing ever done after it was painted in the 90s,” asked Morrison of ODOT officials. “If this historic bridge was in Columbus would it have been left to deteriorate?”

For other officials, like County Commissioners Jim Porter and Cindy Cameron, as well as County Engineer Mark Eicher, they would rather see the funds used on bridges that need money and attention, used by local citizens daily, like the Gaysport Bridge in southern Muskingum County which is currently closed due to structural concerns.

The Dresden Suspension Bridge is also at a point where it can’t just be left to sit and deteriorate further, with both vehicles and pedestrians needing to pass under the structure, which has alarming skeletal concerns, to get to Dresden River Park, ODOT officials would like to figure out what to do with the bridge sooner than later before a piece falls off and injures or kills someone.

Tri-Valley Superintendent Mark Neal also raised an alarming observation, kids, as well as adults, often sneak onto and walk the bridge even though it is closed to the public. With numerous holes in the desk, someone could get seriously injured.

“We’ve seen children out on it and I guess that’s our biggest fear,” Neal added.

ODOT will accept public comments on the matter until Friday, February 25. Should the bridge be demolished, officials said it would be possible to save portions to put on display as a memorial to the century-old structure.