Residents from both sides of the Red River gathered Tuesday afternoon for the official opening of the new Carpenter’s Bluff Bridge.
The 1,300-foot, two-lane, concrete bridge was made accessible to motorists and even riders who sat atop a horse and a mule after a brief dedication speech and ribbon cutting ceremony. The event was attended by local elected officials, state transportation agency representatives as well as members of the public. And most all stuck around to break bread over a barbecue lunch, which was held right on the bridge itself.
“The effort started back in 2006,” Bryan County Commissioner Tony Simmons said. “That’s how long this bridge has been an idea.”
Simmons said the bridge was built through the collaboration of Grayson County and Bryan County commissioners and was funded largely by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as with some money from the federal government, which was allocated to the Texas side.
“On the money, I’m going to say approximately $11 million,” Simmons said of total project cost. “Oklahoma funded half, Texas funded half.”
The Bryan County commissioner said, to the best of his knowledge, the original Carpenter’s Bluff Bridge was built in the 1800s and served many of the then-popular forms of transportation well.
“It was originally built as a railroad trestle across the river,” Simmons said.”And then, they built a wooden walk out there for horses and wagons.”
But once cars and trucks became the dominant means of travel, the railroad tracks were eventually paved over and a single concrete lane was installed. Grayson County Commissioner David Whitlock said the bridge’s limited traffic flow and eight-ton capacity has been problematic ever since.
“At the old bridge, you had to wait your turn to cross,” Whitlock said. “And sometimes, you had to wait quite some time. After today, you’ll be able to go as soon as you get to the bridge. You don’t have to wait on anyone else.”
Whitlock said the old bridge would remain special to him, as he spent much of his childhood traversing it by foot, but expressed excitement that the new bridge would allow more folks from across the river to visit, work and play in Grayson County.
“We’ve got a lot of good neighbors in Oklahoma,” Whitlock said. “And a lot of people from Oklahoma have worked in Denison for years and they’ve all traveled over the old bridge. Now, they’ll have the convenience of a nice new bridge.”
Simmons said the old bridge will eventually be closed to vehicle traffic and re-purposed for pedestrians, though he did not know when that change would take effect.
“We don’t have an exact date on the shutdown of the old bridge,” Simmons said. “Right, now we’re fixing to put barricades up today after this bridge is opened. The barricades will go up until we can make repairs on the bridge, on some welding. And once those welds are fixed back for the safety of the folks walking out there on it, there will be some permanent concrete barriers put up where people can get by.”
Simmons said he did not yet know if bicycles would be permitted across the old bridge, but said he believes those who hoped to pedal across likely wouldn’t have any issues.