A Bridge Too Far

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 7.13.56 PM
Photo by James McCray https://bridgehunter.com/tn/davidson/hillwood-blvd/

People make fun of my driving. I drive slow. I have a Walking District Pace Car bumper sticker. In the event that, say, a Bird runs into a Lime runs into a Pedal Tavern in front of me, I plan to minimize potential harm by driving 30 to 35 miles an hour.

Honk if you hate my mom-speed, but it’s for your own good.

Likewise, when you ride in my car and wonder why I renounce the interstate in favor of “surface roads,” there’s a reason: I still live in the town where I learned to drive. And before I learned to drive, I walked, ran, roller-bladed and biked everywhere, so my neural pathways formed along the roads with wide shoulders and thin traffic.

I was recently driving a colleague to the office, and at one point along the cheerful backroads of my childhood I apologized:

“I suspect you’re wondering why I just took this turn, which is probably not the fastest route back to the office.”

“No,” he said calmly. “You took that turn a long time ago.”

To his point, I had made a counter-intuitive navigational choice early in our journey, all in the service of avoiding the Hillwood Boulevard Bridge. The graceful sweep from Harding Road, over Richland Creek and the CSX railroad lines, would have been our fastest route, with added benefits of being a scenic and sentimental favorite.

(You see, my father grew up near the Hillwood Boulevard Bridge. If my memory serves — and if his yarns were true — Dad used to walk onto the bridge and grab hold of an upper branch of a young tree below, then launch off the bridge and ride the bending arc of the tree down to the railroad tracks. I never cross that bridge without thinking of my Dad.)

But I cross that bridge as infrequently as possible. The way I see it, my dad was riding saplings off that bridge in the 1930s, not long after Robert Frost wrote his 1916 poem about riding birches, so by now, I can’t imagine the Hillwood Bridge is supported by much more than cantankerous honeysuckle and a benevolent Army Corps of 17-year cicadas.

So, if driving an extra mile means I can circumnavigate a century-old bridge of uncertain structural integrity, then I’m gonna do it, even if it takes ten extra minutes because I’m driving 30 to 35 miles per hour.

As it turns out, when you confess that kind of cataclysmic bridges-are-falling-down paranoia, people think you’re nuts, including my husband, my children, and my colleague in the passenger seat, who shook his head at my worrywart wayfinding.

So, imagine my vindicated delight when, just days later, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced it was closing the 102-year-old Hillwood Boulevard Bridge on October 1, to construct a new bridge.

Naturally, I fired off a quick I-told-you-so text to my colleague, along with a link to the TDOT press release.

“They didn’t say there’s anything wrong with the bridge,” countered my colleague, reluctant to cede the win to my crazy thinking.

Fair enough. The TDOT press release doesn’t actually mention structural flaws, seismic shortcomings or anything related to honeysuckle or cicadas.

But you won’t see me looking too deeply into the matter of outdated infrastructure. I’ll just consider it a bullet dodged. I’ve already got enough to worry about.

For more photographs of the Hillwood Boulevard Bridge, visit https://bridgehunter.com/tn/davidson/hillwood-blvd/, where I borrowed this photograph by James McCray.

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