McDavis at Oxbow ceremony

President Roderick J. McDavis offers his remarks at the dedication ceremony of the Oxbow Trail Bridge on Oct. 28.

Photographer: Elizabeth Held

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University, City of Athens hail Oxbow Bridge project as great collaboration

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and Athens city leaders celebrated what they called a great partnership during the ceremonial opening of the Oxbow Trail Bridge on Monday, Oct. 28.

Though traffic has been traveling the bridge for several weeks now, the event offered an opportunity to recognize those involved in making the rehabilitation project a success. The bridge – which is the fifth such structure since 1839 to span the Oxbow area – underwent a major overhaul shortly after the University's May commencement wrapped up on the Athens Campus. Andy Stone, city engineer for the City of Athens, gave a short history of the 80-year-old bridge as part of the ceremony. He commented that the current structure only needed minor repairs up until this summer's work.

"That is simply amazing. Fifty years is the typical lifespan for a bridge like this," Stone said.

The new bridge design mimics elements of the original architecture, including lights that look similar to those used when it was first constructed in 1932. Stone said the structure offers safety features such as multi-modal transportation options, a vehicle crash-worthy barrier between pedestrians and automobiles and improved lighting. 

In addition to those features, OHIO supplied funding for a new set of stairs to allow pedestrians to walk from the West Green area to the bridge without crossing Richland Avenue.

McDavis remarked to the crowd that the University is honored to be involved in the partnership that led to restoring a "beautiful entry way" to the city and the University.

"We're very proud of our shared commitment to beautifying our city and improving safety for all of our community members and visitors. Oxbow Bridge is of significance to all who live in Athens, who work or reside on campus and who visit the city and the University. Its improved design will allow pedestrians, bicyclists and cars to co-exist safely." McDavis said he's already heard positive feedback from faculty, staff and students about the bridge improvements.

Stone said the project cost totaled $3.7 million, 80 percent of which was covered by Federal Highway Administration funding. Ohio University and the City of Athens covered the rest of the cost. Stone called this a "case study in best practices" for a municipality and a university teaming up to administer federal funds for transportation upgrades.

Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl also made remarks at the ceremony, likening the bridge to a metaphor for University-City relations. Wiehl said he could remember several of the incarnations the bridge took on, but thought this was the best result. McDavis agreed.

"Some of us, well, just a few of us, probably actually just me, I'm old enough actually to remember when there was a river that ran right there," joked McDavis, who graduated from OHIO in 1970. "We've come a long way to say the least! The project is a great accomplishment. We're very, very pleased with everybody who had a hand in making this project the success that it turned out to be."


What's in a name?

According to Stone, an oxbow is defined as a geologic feature which is described as a large bend in a river, resembling the yoke around an oxen's neck. Oxbow Trail refers to the area where the Hocking River once flowed in such a shape. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers re-directed the river in the late 1960s to mitigate flooding, but the bridge remained, spanning the old Oxbow Creek bed.

Arthur Coates, for whom Coates Run is named, opened the first pay ferry on the river at the oxbow in the early 1800's and operated it for nearly 40 years, when the first toll bridge was built in 1839. Stone said after that, the bridge was made over three more times – in 1870, 1908, 1932 – before the work that was done in the summer of 2013.

Artwork etched into the abutment reliefs below the bridge depicts two historic scenes, which Stone calls "momentous events." The first is the arrival of the Marietta to Cincinnati railroad in 1855, which ran in the area along the river through the 1980s. The second is a scene of the Hocking River during the 1870 flood. In the etching, the Oxbow Bridge and the Athens Lunatic Asylum can both be seen.