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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

Demise of East Toledo bridge opens new vistas

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The railroad bridge that for almost 80 years physically separated East Toledo from the rest of the city has been removed, opening up the view from both sides of the Maumee River - and erasing one more reminder of what made the east side different.

"It went down and [now] it looks kind of nice," said Tracey Beyer, an East Toledo businessman who a year ago was not in favor of the demolition project.

Mrs. Beyer, the owner of River East Flowers in the Weber Block Building at Front and Main streets, said she liked what she saw when she looked out her front window last week.

"It was kind of nice to be able to see the city. It makes us feel we're part of the city," she said.

The former railroad bridge - under which vehicle traffic flowed - was removed Sept. 23 to allow widening of Main Street as part of the planned Marina District project, said Mike White, city commission-er of engineering and special transportation projects.

Crews work to remove the  River East  railway bridge, which required temporary closing of
Main Street. The overpass had once carried trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Crews work to remove the River East railway bridge, which required temporary closing of Main Street. The overpass had once carried trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
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The five lanes will be widened to the standard 12-foot widths, and there will be new sidewalks, curbs, and drains on both sides.

Mr. White said the demolition is part of a $1.36 million project to upgrade Main from the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge to Front, with 80 percent of funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Eventually, a pedestrian crossing could go up in place of the railroad crossing as part of a walking/biking trail along the former railroad right-of-way.

"The view both coming into downtown and the view coming across the bridge is great," said Mr. White, an East Toledo native.

"It's a shame that was hid all these years," he said.

The new openness has come as a welcome surprise, even to some people who were nostalgic about it.

Vickie Nelson, a cook at Central Hot Dog restaurant on Front just east of Main, said she remembers when trains used the overpass.

"It's an East Toledo landmark. It's something that is East Toledo. But progress - you know. It does give you a better view of downtown," Ms. Nelson said.

City Councilman Mike Craig, the district councilman for East Toledo, said the demolition of the old bridge marks the continuing transition of the east side from when it teemed with busy docks and heavy industry.

"When they put that [bridge] up, this was the industrial center of northwest Ohio. We had refineries, foundries, shipyards. Now, hopefully, it'll be an entertainment and commercial center," Mr. Craig said.

At least one East Toledoan said she was sorry to see the bridge go. Betsy Ujvagi, 24, office manager for the ACE River East Incubator in the Weber Block and daughter of State Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), said the decorative waves and the words "River East" on the bridge were "something you identify with East Toledo."

"I didn't think it was a barrier," Ms. Ujvagi said. "I think it was distinguishing us more than separating us."

Don Monroe, longtime executive director of River East Economic Revitalization Corp. and now manager of the Marina District, said many east siders have wanted the bridge down for a long time. It wasn't until the Marina District came along that the money was available, he said.

The railroad overpass was built in 1927 to eliminate the Pennsylvania Railroad grade crossing at Main.

Passenger and freight trains lumbered across the heavy-duty trestle and then across the Maumee River on a bridge that was removed in the 1980s to a train station at Summit and Olive streets, just north of downtown. That station burned in 1988.

In 1975, the sides of the overpass were turned into a gateway sign for East Toledo. Fiber-glass letters spelling out "Welcome to River East" with wave shapes incorporating the letters "r" and "e" were attached to the western side of the rail bridge facing downtown.

Mr. Monroe said he had one disappointment in the demolition. He had hoped to claim one of those fiber-glass letters as a souvenir. But the letters were destroyed, along with the railroad bridge.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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