Written by Chris Morris
Near the end of the twentieth century, Indiana’s historic bridges were disappearing at an alarming rate. These structures - vital as they were to the state’s heritage and transportation development - were so threatened that they were added to the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Places List in 2002. Indiana had lost more than 65% of its historic metal bridges, even though rehabilitation would have been less expensive than demolition and new construction. Worse, many of the bridges that were demolished using federal funds did not receive proper Section 106 review. These demolitions were the culmination of inadequate public policy, uneven compliance with the consultation processes defined by Section 106 and Section 4(f) requirements, and the lack of a comprehensive bridge preservation plan.
Determined to save as many remaining historic bridges as possible, and realizing that fighting the demolitions on an individual basis was ineffective, the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now Indiana Landmarks) formed the Indiana Historic Spans Task Force. This alliance included the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Indiana bridge historian Dr. Jim Cooper, and other historic bridge advocates and experts. The task force’s overall goal was to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for addressing Indiana’s collection of 5,000 historic bridges.
The Spans Task Force collaborated with the Federal Highway Administration, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Indiana State Historic Preservation Office to develop the Programmatic Agreement for the Management and Preservation of Indiana’s Historic Bridges, a precedent-setting document finalized in 2006. The Programmatic Agreement established a statewide bridge survey and review, consistent review criteria for historic bridges, greater oversight of Section 106 and 4(f) requirements, financial incentives for the rehabilitation of historic bridges, and a listing of bridges eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Programmatic Agreement serves as a model for other states. It is a good representation of how transportation and historic preservation agencies can work effectively with communities to streamline processes, thus enabling the saving of time and money,” says Paul Brandenburg, chair of the Spans Task Force and consultant to more than 100 bridge projects. Representatives from the National Trust Law Department and Midwest Office worked tirelessly for more than 8 years to help the Spans Task Force develop the Programmatic agreement. “The National Trust was heavily involved in creating the programmatic agreement and completing the Historic Bridge Survey. Without the help of the National Trust, we would not have the program we have today,” Brandenburg notes.
Of 18,000 bridges in the state, 5,000 were reviewed in the 2010 survey required by the Programmatic Agreement. Of these, 799 were deemed eligible for the National Register and 75 were actually listed. Each of the 799 bridges NR-eligible bridges was designated as Select or Non-Select. The 439 Select bridges could not be demolished as part of a bridge replacement program using either federal or local funding, but instead would be preserved and rehabilitated for continued use. Non-select bridges that are planned for bypassing or replacement would be offered to any group or individual willing to take ownership of the bridge and manage it or move it to another site.
Brandenburg estimates that more than 50% of Indiana’s threatened historic bridges have been saved as a result of the Programmatic Agreement. “There are some aspects of the survey that could be improved, but overall the Programmatic Agreement is working and historic bridges are being saved. Although it’s still a bit too early in the process to show good examples of the rehabilitation or relocation of Select bridges, we are definitely seeing a much greater sensitivity to them,” he said.
The dedication of Indiana Historic Spans Task Force and their commitment to create a new system by which Indiana’s bridges could be systematically evaluated and preserved led to a 2007 National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust. The collaborative effort with numerous local advocates, and state and federal agencies, resulted in a program that is an excellent model for other states struggling to save their transportation history, “What emerged from the Indiana Historic Spans Task Force has served as a basis for other Department of Transportation policies around the Midwest that have led to the identification and preservation of numerous historic bridges,” says Royce Yeater, Director of the National Trust Midwest Office.
You can learn more about this year’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places — and you can help. By texting the word “PLACES” to 25383 on your mobile phone, you can donate a special $10.00 gift to support the National Trust’s efforts to save the places that tell America’s story. Click here for details.
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Chris Morris is a Program Officer at the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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