The last of the federally funded bridge replacement projects in Jackson County has begun.

When completed, the new bridge that carries County Road 550W over the Muscatatuck River will give farmers in the area something they haven’t had in at least eight years — easy access to land they farm in Washington County.

E&B Paving of Anderson demolished the truss-structured bridge, built in 1899, on March 2.

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“They dropped it into the river and then pulled it out,” said Warren Martin, superintendent of the Jackson County High-way Department.

“It went down in one piece, and they (E&B) had an excavator at each end,” Martin said. “One pulled and one pushed.”

The contractor, who is being paid $2,386,500 for removing and replacing the bridge, had to receive permits from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to drop the bridge into the river, Martin said.

The firm then had 48 hours to completely get the bridge out of the river.

The federal government funds 80 percent of the cost of replacing federal bridges, while the county pays the remaining 20 percent.

Charlie Hackman, who lives in the Vallonia area and farms ground on both sides of the river, said he is just glad to finally see the project moving forward.

“It makes me very happy,” Hackman said.

Hackman was an advocate throughout the years of getting the Cavanaugh Bridge reopened for not just farmers and loggers but people who used it to travel from Haleysburg in Washington County to Medora.

“It will be well-used,” he said.

Martin said the state closed the old bridge, also known as Bridge 195, in 2006 because it had deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe.

The contract calls for the new bridge, which will be located about 100 to 150 yards downstream, to be in place and open to traffic by mid-November. The bridge will be 437 feet long.

Martin said E&B has bored the shafts for the new piers on each side of the river, but the weather has slowed the work this past week.

Farmers, loggers and others who once used the Cavanaugh Bridge have had to travel east to State Road 135 and then go south into Washington County at Millport.

Hackman said that generally added about 15 minutes to a trip back and forth between the two counties for him.

That’s a lot of time during harvest, he said.

State Road 135 also is a heavily traveled road, and it’s extremely dangerous moving any large and heavy piece of farm machinery across the bridge over the Muscatatuck River, Hackman said.

The only other remaining federally fund bridge project is the renovation of the Shieldstown Covered Bridge, which will begin this year. Other bridge replacement projects completed in recent years include ones at Rockford, Vallonia and Sparksville.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.