BRAZORIA — Shortly after conducting an interview with a local newspaper about the Highway 332 bridge over the Brazos River, Mary Ruth Rhodenbaugh got a call from a woman in Houston.
“She said, ‘My daddy was the engineer on that bridge,’” Rhodenbaugh said. “She was in her 90s.”
Rhodenbaugh eventually met the woman, whose family moved to Brazoria in 1939 just as she was starting college so her dad could complete the project.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to live in Brazoria. They don’t even have a picture show,’” Rhodenbaugh said, laughing. “We had a delightful visit.”
The bridge was built by the county in 1939 for $250,000, Rhodenbaugh said.
“That was back then,” she said. “It’s worth more than that today.”
The old suspension bridge — dubbed “The Bridge to Nowhere” by locals — linked the Brazosport and West of the Brazos areas for more than 70 years, carrying traffic over the Brazos River.
But since the new $45 million bridge on Highway 332 and FM 521 was completed in 2010, the old suspension bridge’s nickname has become literal.
The Brazoria County Commissioners Court discussed plans to turn the “Bridge to Nowhere” into a pedestrian bridge leading to a hike-and-bike trail near the Brazos River in 2008, during Rhodenbaugh’s sole term as Precinct 4 commissioner.
The county’s contract with the Texas Department of Transportation stated the highway department was responsible for removing the original lead paint and repainting the bridge, but those plans hit a snag when Texas Department of Transportation officials determined the endeavor would cost in the $5 million range.
Since then, the highway department has been released from the responsibility of rehabilitating and maintaining the bridge, spokesman Danny Perez said.
“The bridge and approaches would require significant rehabilitation to accommodate pedestrian traffic,” Perez said. “Agreements with the city and county regarding the bridge’s rehabilitation and maintenance were abrogated by those two entities several years ago.”
While Perez said the department was in the process of resolving the issue, officials have made no determination about the bridge’s future.
“We always strive to do what is best for the community,” he said.
Although Perez said the bridge’s future is still in flux, Brazoria resident J.D. Allen worried the department would opt for demolition.
“If it’s about the same price to take it down, they can refurbish it and open it up to pedestrian traffic,” he said. “I’d rather not see it torn down for nothing.”
If the bridge were available to pedestrians, Allen said, a seldom-used small park by the river could turn into a tourist destination.
“Right now it’s hard to get there,” Allen said.
Rhodenbaugh also hasn’t given up on the historical structure.
“I want that bridge to be available,” she said.