In the epic movie “A Bridge Too Far,” which dramatized the failed allied “Market Gardens” push into Germany during World War II, one scene shows Robert Redford leading troops across a river under heavy fire while paddling canvas-sided boats with gusto and a prayer.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, Hail Mary, full of grace,” Redford’s character repeats.
It’s not quite that dramatic when you paddle beneath the badly deteriorating railroad bridge spanning the Susquehanna river near the Harding section of Exeter Township, but it’s getting close. Huge chunks of stone piers are gone, with some of the remaining masonry looking ready to crash down on you. Wires and ropes — either part of the decaying structure or foolhardy additions by trespassers — dangle perilously.
And debris — both natural and man-made, stacked higher than any human is tall — wraps around the upriver side of the pillars.
It is triple testimony: To the golden age when the Iron Horse toted the Black Diamond to make this region grow; to the progress that made those industries obsolete and changed the growth from money to rust; and to our regional and national knack for letting profiteers reap rewards from the land without paying later costs of their pillage.
Jen Learn-Andes’ story in Monday’s paper about the plight of that bridge — recurring false promises to tear it down for one last profit thanks to the value of the scrap metal — summed the sad saga in stark terms.
There was a time this span could have been saved for what by today’s dollars would have been a pittance, converted perhaps into a pedestrian walkway, made part of a rails to trails project, or something else a coat of paint, a new deck and a safety fence might have accomplished. But that time is long past.
It is fit for nothing more than demolition and salvage, and the travesty occurred when salvage value threatened to exceed demolition costs.
Rust does that.
Now the bridge is owned by the embattled Leo Glodzik. It landed in his lap like a version of the childhood game “hot potato.” He just happened to be the last would-be-profiteer hapless enough to catch it.
By most accounts, Glodzik is in no position to raze the bridge, yet it must be razed. And it is increasingly likely taxpayers will foot the bill.
The bridge presents a growing and real threat to those who might unwisely venture upon it, those who paddle beneath it, and — most frighteningly, though least likely — those who live upstream of it. A dam created by deluge-pushed debris or ice near its piers could devastate upriver communities.
It is, pardon the movie pun, a bridge too far gone.
Asking why it reached this pathetic and costly point makes it something more important to taxpayers. Why was it included in a rail purchase deal made by the Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority when it was already a clear liability? Why were previous owners allowed to let it become such a risk? Why did someone like Glodzik get to buy it apparently with nothing in writing assuring it would be dismantled, without giving proof they could afford to do the job?
Apologies to fans of the 1957 classic with William Holden and Alec Guinness, but this has become the Bridge Over the River Why …
Mark Guydish can be reached at 829-7161 or firstname.lastname@example.org