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Gas drilling concerns force closure of Ohio bridge

MIDDLEBOURNE, Ohio (AP) — The last S-curve bridge in service in the state is being closed to traffic because of concerns that heavy trucks used in eastern Ohio's gas drilling boom are too much for a structure once traversed by wagons, Model T's and even Abraham Lincoln.

Guernsey County commissioners on Friday closed the bridge over Salt Fork Creek near Middlebourne, about 95 miles east of Columbus, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/18VHAFi ) reported. It's an effort to preserve the span, which is part of the trail known as the National Road that connected Maryland and the Mississippi River.

The bridge, now designated as a National Historic Landmark and a National Engineering Landmark, probably was built around 1828, said Doug Smith, a Licking County commissioner who is president of the Ohio National Road Association. Advocates hope to turn the area into a park.

"It's a fading piece of American history," Smith said. "I want it to be here long after I'm gone, and I want it to be able to tell its own story."

He and several members of his association asked Guernsey County this week to close the bridge, and the commissioners agreed almost immediately.

The bridge has a posted legal load limit of 3 tons, but "a lot of these oil and gas vehicles that travel along here don't pay a lot of attention to load limits," said Commissioner Skip Gardner.

The bridge originally handled a very different type of transportation, and its shape was meant to address the challenges that arose when roads crossed the water at odd angles instead of having easier, perpendicular approaches.

The Guernsey County Community Development Corp. is considering acquiring the bridge to turn it into a park, and Smith's association is working toward the same goal with Wills Township trustees, the newspaper said.

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