Beyond the Overpass

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The bridge is gone, but the divide remains

There’s a new feature at the local CBC site that’s generating some new discussion around the old “townie vs. baymen” debate.

It’s called “Beyond the Overpass” and you can find it by going to http://www.cbc.ca/nl/blogs/seen/2012/01/beyond-the-overpass.html

Webmaster Kathryn King has been driving this one, so to speak. She took notice when the overpass was about to come down, and began taking photos of it frequently, capturing every stage of its demise.

Here’s how the overpass is described, in the introduction:

“In reality, it is (or was) a concrete structure that allows Kenmount Road traffic to flow uninterrupted over Topsail Road into or out of St. John's. But the Overpass has taken on a life of its own as an icon in the popular culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The actual structure was built in 1959, the first overpass in Newfoundand. But it has come to symbolize a dividing line between urban and rural, the haves and the have-nots, townie and bayman. A mythical line in the sand.

And starting this summer the wall came down, part of a $5.6 million makeover.”

If you scroll down and roll your mouse over the second photo on the page, you will discover a hidden slide show of King’s photographs. The destruction of the overpass was well documented, indeed.

There are other features on the page, including some reader-submitted photos and further discussion about the place of the overpass in local mythology – even business – but the most interesting discussion can be found in the comments section. This is where people weigh in with their own perceptions of what the overpass means, what it symbolizes, where it is, and if indeed it has been destroyed.

These last two points are critical. The overpass is not so much a physical structure as it is a cultural symbol. It has become part of the vernacular, shorthand for “the dividing line between St. John’s and the rest of the province.” I used the term last week, in my entry about OZ FM.

Some commenters point out that, with the suburban expansion of the last 20 years, and the growth of Mount Pearl, Paradise and CBS, the real “overpass” is now further out, at the intersection of Pitts Memorial Drive and the Trans Canada Highway, where the urban sprawl actually begins.

Either way, the old overpass became redundant in 1998, when the Outer Ring Road was officially opened. The overpass was located on what was once the TCH, and the vast majority of people arriving at and leaving the capital by automobile crossed over that bridge. Its symbolism was apt.

But it was replaced in 1998 by a four-lane, double-overpass on the Outer Ring, over Topsail Road, in Paradise. All traffic in and out of the city now zooms over that structure, at speeds of 120 kmh and more. The old overpass became a crumbling artifact, on a side road into St. John’s.

Its demolition is a notable moment, but its relevance has long been superseded by two other overpasses on the TCH.

In general, if you look at a map of the city, pitts memorial, and the outer ring, form a rough circle around the city, that somewhat follows its boundary or developed areas,” writes on commenter. at the CBC site. “Everything within that to me is ‘town’ (and) everything outside is ‘bay’.”

In any case,” writes another, “the divide between rural and city in the province (beyond the adjacent, suburbanized areas of the Avalon) have solidified, not melted. The issues that divide rural and urban life in the province have not been washed away by some infrastructure work to try and allieviate traffic flow to and from metro St. John's. Analogy aside, the divide is getting larger and deeper by the year.”

Check out the site for yourself, and leave a comment. It’s an interesting discussion… and one that’s not going to end anytime soon. 

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