SHREWSBURY – It took years of planning and construction, but the Toblin Hill neighborhood has been reunited.
Toblin Hill Drive — which is located off Walnut Street, close to Floral Street — leads to a neighborhood of roughly 40 homes. The road heads east, winding around, connecting to several cul-de-sacs en route. Roughly 500 feet from the start of Toblin Hill Drive, it passes over a low-lying stream with a bridge connecting both sides of the neighborhood.
In 2016, the bridge — constructed in the 1990s — was closed indefinitely. The concrete was cracked, a large sinkhole opened under the bridge, and pieces of the 50-foot-long structure fell into the stream below. The bridge was deemed unrepairable, and chain link fences soon surrounded the crumbling infrastructure. Bright orange signs were put along Walnut Street advising passersby of the broken bridge.
The residents who lived on the other side of the bridge weren’t stranded — they could leave the neighborhood by using Nursery Drive, which connects Toblin Hill Drive to Walnut Street — but the neighborhood was split nonetheless. The street was home to many middle-school-age children, and with the bridge closure, they could no longer walk across the bridge to Toblin Hill Park.
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The Toblin Hill Drive houses located closest to Walnut Street have their mailboxes across the bridge; what used to be an easy walk to the mailbox turned into a half-mile drive around the block.
The Community Advocate spoke to several residents, and while nobody said the closed bridge changed their life, they also admitted the closure could become annoying and frustrating at times.
“It was an actual, physical barrier in our neighborhood,” said Toblin Hill Drive resident Divya Raghunathan.
“It meant that as a community — we were broken off,” said fellow Toblin Hill resident Stephan Koester.
Raghunathan said that the bridge closure ruined Halloween; children used to complete the neighborhood circuit, but they could no longer traverse the bridge to reach the houses closest to Walnut Street. The neighborhood also used to be “full of walkers,” she said, but now people were walking along roads with no sidewalks, shorter routes, or not walking at all.
According to Raghunathan, people from both ends of the street connected with each other less after the bridge closed.
“For some reason, even though it’s not that big of a difference, people from both sides of the bridge stopped talking. We would also walk down to their houses… but it stopped,” she said.
In 2018, the bridge was demolished. In 2019, design plans were reviewed. In 2021, funding became available, and, in 2022, the contract to construct the bridge was awarded. The construction began in 2023, and by the end of the year, the new bridge was complete, officially reuniting the neighborhood.
“The reconstruction of the Toblin Hill Drive Bridge was a long time coming for both the neighborhood residents, town staff and the community at large. The collaboration between the neighborhood and town staff shows our Department of Public Works at its best, but not without some obstacles along the way,” a Dec. 4 online statement from the town reads.
During a Select Board meeting in October, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar mentioned he drove across the bridge to celebrate. The town plans to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the near future.
And, according to residents, the neighborhood is back.
Raghunathan now goes across the bridge to get mail, and the neighborhood walkers have returned — possibly in greater numbers.
“Did [the bridge] affect my travel? No. But it’s nice for the community,” said Koester.