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Historic bridge teeters on end

Jim Hunter near the Rhodes Road Bridge. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
March 14, 2012 - Goodrich-Jim Hunter has a bridge that once led somewhere.

Hunter's backyard incorporates a section of the Kearsley Creek near Green Road and what locals have labeled the 'Rhodes Road Bridge.'

The iron, stone and wood structure, which incorporates hot rivets and spans the Kearsley Creek, has been abandoned for about 80 years, say historians. In the late 1800s, the bridge supported horse drawn buggies, steam tractors and later a few of the first automobiles as motorists traveled between points south to Bay City and the Saginaw Bay area.

However, a combination of weather and age has made the old bridge a 20-ton problem for Hunter.

"I want the bridge out of there," said Hunter, who shares ownership of the bridge with a neighbor. "But I just don't have any remedy. There's a liability factor when people cross the bridge on snowmobiles, motorcycles or on foot. They have to understand it's trespassing when they come onto my yard. It's a private road and bridge."

Hunter recognizes the historical significance, but says the bridge has become a major liability both personally and environmentally.

Alex Patsy, project engineer for the Genesee County Road Commission, recently completed an inspection on the old bridge.

"I share the homeowner's concern that this bridge could very soon become a blockage problem (on Kearsley Creek). The southern end of the western truss has become detached at the bearing (abutment)," he said. "The eastern truss is still very much intact, but looks like it may fail at the southern connection quite soon."

"In my opinion, if this failure were to occur, the bridge would fall into the river, causing the blockage," he added. Furthermore, the timber stringers have deteriorated and totally failed, making crossing an impossibility. This is important to understand because, if the deck were to fall into the river, this would be a significant blockage, regardless if the trusses fail or not. With that said, from my initial observations, I say there is a good probability that this bridge could wind up in the stream within a few significant rain events."

Lloyd Baldwin, historian, environmental section bureau of development, Michigan Department of Transportation provided some background on the old bridge.

"The original M-15 was in the Upper Peninsula following roughly the route of US-41. The designation was entirely removed from the UP in 1926 and was applied to a new trunk line route beginning at Clarksville and running to Vassar. I suspect that Rhodes Road may have been used temporarily while the existing 'mainline' was built, if Rhodes Road ever carried the M-15 shield. Highway M-15 over Kearsley Creek is pretty new, but it replaced a bridge built in about 1930."

"Neither the bridge nor Rhodes Road show up on the (MDOT) databases, which makes sense, as I'm sure the bridge was removed from the Genesee County Road Commission inventory whenever this segment of Rhodes Road was abandoned. Rhodes Road, so it would seem, is associated with settlers John and Huldah Rhodes, whose farmstead is located at 10448 Green Road."

Village Councilman Pete Morey said the bridge could be worth saving.

"I believe the Rhodes Road bridge was the first along M-15," said Pete Morey, village councilman. "The bridge could be worth saving under the right conditions."

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