DEFIANCE — The Clinton Street bridge reopened to traffic Monday and was rechristened the Purple Heart Bridge.
The new name was announced by Defiance Mayor Michael McCann during a 70-minute dedication ceremony that included a ribbon cutting on the bridge by local Purple Heart veterans, followed by the first vehicle across the new bridge — Paul Gearing and Jackie Jones in Gearing’s 1932 Ford Roadster.
After being closed for the past 10 months, McCann led a host of local dignitaries who welcomed the reopening of the downtown bridge and saluted the new name, which recognizes military veterans who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action while serving in the U.S. military.
“I’m excited. This is an early Christmas present,” McCann told The Bryan Times prior to his remarks, in which he thanked, among others, the contractor, Great Lakes Construction Company, and the Ohio Department of Transportation, which oversaw the project.
ODOT oversees about 14,000 bridges in Ohio, “and this is the newest,” ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks said to chuckles from about 200 people who gathered for opening remarks under a tent near the south side bridge entrance on a cold, blustery day.
McCann also thanked Defiance native and County Commissioner Ryan Mack for his service and lauded him as an example of what the new bridge name represents. Mack, who served six years with the U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division, earned a Purple Heart in 2010 in the battle of Marjah, Afghanistan, when he was wounded by an improvised explosive device.
Mack told The Times he hopes the renaming of the bridge sparks discussion and education, especially among teachers and parents and young people, into what military service and sacrifice means. He likened the bridge renaming to other Defiance County renamings that honor military service, such as Meuse Argonne Road, in Hicksville.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, 1st District Ohio Sen. Rob McColley and District 82 Ohio Rep. Craig S. Riedel, along with representatives from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s office, also offered remarks and proclamations. Neither DeWine nor Husted were able to attend.
“We are in debt to our veterans,” said Latta.
McCann thanked McColley and especially Riedel for shepherding the bridge’s name change through the state legislature.
Afterward, Mack and more than two dozen Defiance area veterans who earned the Purple Heart assisted in a ceremonial ribbon cutting on the south side of the bridge. The veterans then walked to the north side of the bridge and escorted Gearing and his Roadster back to the south side in the ceremonial first crossing of the new bridge.
Workers in February began the $8.3 million complete replacement of the two-lane bridge, including the existing piers in the river. The new four-lane bridge includes wider sidewalks, bike lanes and aesthetic treatments.
ODOT said about 27,300 vehicles per day pass over the bridge, which carries state routes 15, 18 and 66 through downtown Defiance. The original bridge was constructed in the 1930s and rehabilitated in 1980. ODOT said the decision was made to replace the bridge due to deterioration of the concrete box bridge beams.
Gearing won a fundraising raffle for the right to be the first to cross the new bridge.
“I’m honored to be the first one over the bridge,” said Gearing, a Defiance native, who invited Jones to ride along in the Roadster.
The invocation and benediction were offered by Pastor Dave Brobston of St. Paul Lutheran Church.
ODOT District 2 spokesperson Rhonda Peas said while the bridge is now open to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, work will continue into the summer on lighting, curbs and sidewalks, and on the shared use path that travels along the north side river bank underneath the bridge.
Peas said some of the work could cause some brief lane closures but traffic will be maintained.
Defiance City Administrator Jeffrey Leonard has said the shared use roadway is part of a comprehensive strategy to enhance the river and other natural features for the community that will take place over the next 10 to 20 years.