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Restoring the Historic Roosevelt Bridge

Created: 12/26/2013 6:47 PM KAALtv.com
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- For the first time in months, one of Austin's most heavily traveled streets is once again open to traffic.

And while re-building a bridge ordinarily doesn't take two years, this is no ordinary bridge.

"There was a time when our people didn't have work" said Austin resident Polly Jelinek.

It was the early 1930's, and America was struggling through the great depression.

"Since President Roosevelt's new deal was out they decided this was a good time to start putting people back to work" said the Mower County Historical Society’s Sue Doocy.

Part of the New Deal was Civil Works Administration, the CWA. It led to construction of what we now know as the Roosevelt Bridge.

"The bridge was to replace the old south river bridge because it had outlived its usefulness. It needed repairs" the historical society’s Sue Doocy explained.

“I grew up on the river there, the apartment house my great great uncles had built" Polly Jelinek told us. “My great great uncles had a boat livery on the river and people used to rent the boats and go down the river."

One of Polly Jelinek's earliest memories was the opening of the new bridge. 

"I can remember my mom holding me and there was a leech on my leg and they lit a match and got the leech off."

Polly Jelinek is about to turn 81 years old.

“During the depression the train tracks was close by, and the guys who rode the trains would sleep under the bridge or end up at our house."

And as proof that some things haven’t changed much over the years: “Kids on their way to school of course it was the old metal railing, and somebody had to stick their tongue on the railing, and my mom would have to go out and pour water on the tongue."

The bridge has been closed for the better part of two years for reconstruction in its 1930's style -- not replacement in the style of the 21st century.

"The original designer had a vision that he wanted to last a long time and nobody wants to see their art work thrown away" said the historical society’s Sue Doocy.

And 80 years after it was built, the bridge is nearing the end of a reconstruction project that might give it another 80 years.

"It's kind of comforting” Polly Jelinek said. “You want to pat it because it's got your memories in it."

There will be some additional work on the Roosevelt bridge next year, but don't expect any long-term closures.

State and federal dollars will pay 90% of the $3.3 million dollar cost of the project.