Bridgehunter Chronicles Update 30 November 2012

Waterford Bridge in Dakota County, Minnesota. Photo taken in August 2011

As the month of November comes to an end, so will be the month where all kinds of crazy events that has happened, which has to do with historic bridges and ways to preserve or destroy them. Apart from the most heinous decision not to consider a bowstring arch bridge in Nebraska a historic structure- which effectively cleared the last hurdle to tear down the pedestrian bridge which has been sitting abandoned, there are some other notables that are worth putting down here in the Chronicles’ News Flyer, along with a pair of good news and some mystery bridge items which have come to light. 

Without further ado, let us start off with the fishy part:

Vandals get the best of Ghost Bridge in Alabama:

Spanning Cypress Creek in Lauderdale County, Alabama this bridge is one of the most haunted historic bridges in the country as it was the scene of four murders and several lynchings in the past, and people can still see apparitions and strange lights when crossing the structure. Yet the 1912 Pratt through truss bridge and its history is scheduled to come down soon, as vandals have used the bridge for gatherings, leaving garbage at the scene and using the bridge decking for firewood. Despite it being considered historic by the state historical society, the county commission may have the final say in this matter because of liability issues……

Enochs Knob Bridge to come down in December

Like the Ghost Bridge in Alabama, the Franklin County, Missouri structure, featuring a Parker through truss bridge and built in 1908 was the scene of two murders, but several ghostly encounters, such as green dogs, trolls, ghosts of people killing themselves and others, and other abnormalities. While the Ghost Bridge received attention because of its dire state thanks to the vandals, this bridge was the struggle of many attempts to save as a historical marker, but unfortunately to no avail. Construction commenced on its replacement this summer, and the bridge will be removed as soon as the new bridge opens next month. However, as the bridge is still available for purchase through the local contractor, according to recent correspondence, there is a chance that the truss bridge may get a new lease on life, if one is willing to handle its history. More information about this opportunity can be found through this contact detail:



The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles wrote a piece on this bridge, which can be viewed here.


Des Moines Railroad Bridge coming down in pieces

In connection with the most recent article on the collapse of two bridges and the removal of one, here is some unfortunate news on one of the bridges profiled in the article, the Chicago and Great Western Bridge over the Des Moines River in Des Moines.  Due to flooding issues that has plagued the capital of Iowa in recent years (including the 2008 floods), the city decided to take action to raise the dikes along the river in down town, but at the expense of the four-span through truss bridge.  This is perhaps the most logical decision given the dire state the bridge was in. According to a recent visit by John Marvig, parts of the flooring was missing due to vandalism and flooding. Bridge parts rusted and corroded to a point where new parts would be needed. And even worse, the piers on the western side of the river were crumbling at an alarming rate, setting up the stage of parts of the bridge to collapse under its own weight.  Since its abandonment in 2001, there had been plans to convert it into a bike trail, but was scrapped because of its condition and flooding issues. Demolition, consisting of removing the flooring and bringing down the truss spans individually using tow cables, commenced at the beginning of the month, and the removal should be completed by June 2013.  Another through truss bridge, the Red Bridge, which was recently converted into a bike trail, will be raised four feet with new approaches being added. The fate of the other five bridges in the business district is unknown at the moment.

Red Bridge in Des Moines: Unlike the CGW Bridge, this bridge will be raised four feet to allow for more flow of water. Photo taken in August 2011


Mulberry Creek Bridge in Kansas considered historic and should be saved; county engineer and commissioners cowing over the results

The Mulberry Creek Bridge in Ford County, Kansas features two of the original six spans of pin-connected Pratt through trusses that had originally spanned the Arkansas River in Dodge City from the time of its original construction in 1906 until its relocation in 1959. It had served a private road until a broken pin was discovered in May 2012, closing the bridge indefinitely. A month later, the county voted unanimously to tear the bridge down and replace it with a culvert. Two months later, the bridge came to the Chronicles’ attention and that of Workin Bridges and the Kansas State Historical Society. Three days ago, the Kansas Historical Society considered the bridge historic and recommended that the bridge be repaired and reopened to traffic, based on historical findings and the thorough investigation by Julie Bowers and crew at Workin Bridges. A clear victory for a potential owner, Wayne Keller, who lives next to the bridge and uses it regularly. Yet the county commissioners are not backing down on their plan as they have ordered a full inspection of the bridge to determine what other issues the structure has that could justify its demise. Many have considered them to be spoiled sports, not willing to give the bridge to Keller to own. A tiny repair before changing ownership can save thousands of tax payer dollars. Yet the ability to do the math seems to be nonexistent. More information to follow.

The bridge is up for nomination for the Ammann Award for best photo. More will come soon. The Chronicles has an article on the bridge, which can be found here.

Cascade Bridge’s Future in Limbo

Located in Burlington, Iowa and built in 1896 to commemorate the state’s 50th anniversary of its statehood, the Cascade Bridge is the only bridge in Iowa that features the Baltimore deck truss span with no steel approaches- that honor goes to the Kate Shelley Bridge in Boone County. It was closed in 2008 due to structural concerns, but despite being listed on the National Register, an engineering report by a consulting firm in September revealed that the bridge is not safe and should be torn down. Yet the bidding process still continues as some parties are begging to differ, given the fact that the firm only visited the bridge once during its inspection and used photos provided by the city. The bridge’s fate now lies in the hands of the SHPO in Ames and up until now, no decision on its future has been made. A blessing or a curse?

Oblique view of the Cascade Bridge in Burlington. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan in 2009

Despite the ugly sides of the historic bridge preservation story, we do have some bright sides for a couple of bridges that are worth noting:

Gilliecie Bridge in Winneshiek County. Photo taken in October 2005









Gilliece Bridge on the move?

Located over the Upper Iowa River on Cattle Creek Road in Winneshiek County, Iowa, the Gilliece Bridge (which also goes by the names of Murtha and Daley) is one of only two bowstring through arches left in the county, and one of only three left that was constructed by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company, if one counts the queenpost portion of the Upper Bluffton Bridge that was spared demolition earlier this year. This is despite the fact that Wrought Iron Bridge constructed over two dozen bridges in the county between 1870 and 1890. The 1874 bridge sustained damage to its overhead bracing over the years, yet despite the plans to replace the bridge next year, it seems that this bridge is destined for a golf course in Mitchell County. If all repairs are made and the agreement is made, it will be placed over water at Sunny Brae in the next year or so, to be made available for golfers and visitors alike. More information will follow. The Chronicles is working on a piece on Winneshiek County’s bridges and will have it available very soon.

Waterford Iron Bridge gets a check-up; restoration on the horizon

A contract was let to Workin Bridges to look at options for restoring the bridge. Built in 1909 by the Hennepin Bridge Company in Minneapolis, this 140 foot long Camelback through truss bridge is scheduled to be restored and incorporated into a bike trail network along the Canon River, with work expected to start next year. The question that is on the minds of many involved is how to restore it. New foundations, removal of pack rust, fixing truss beams and repainting are needed, but the total cost is unclear. The investigation has started and more will be revealed once the check-up is finished. The fortunate part is the Waterford Bridge is coming off two victories in the funding part, winning the American Express Prize and the Bronze Medal (and $95,000) in the Partner’s for Preservation Award last year, in connection with additional support from public and private sectors, something that is rare in the world of historic bridge preservation. But once the restoration is completed, it will be worth more in its own value than money can ever offer.

More information on the bridge can be found here. Please note, the photos taken by the author can be found here. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

And lastly, we have some news out on a pair of mystery bridges that are worth noting:

Pearson and US 101 Bridges related?

As mentioned earlier this year in many bridge articles, Harrison County, Iowa is one of a few counties in the state that imported many bridges from outside the state, including some high quality aesthetic bridges, such as the (now extant) Orr Bridge, the US 101 Bridges from California, and the Pearson Bridge, all of which can be seen here:

Orr Bridge

US 101 Bridges

Pearson Bridge

Some information about two of the mystery bridges came to light thanks to information from one of the locals. The Pearson Bridge, which spanned Soldier River on 170th Trail near Loess Hills, was originally constructed at the site of the East Kelley Lane Bridge near Mondamin, according to Craig Guttau. The Pearson Bridge was relocated to the present site in the 1950s, when one of the spans of the US 101 Bridge replaced it for reasons of structural soundness, especially when heavier farm equipment needed to cross the bridge. Even more interesting is the fact that a weight limit was imposed on the East Kelley Lane Bridge right from the beginning due to a missing beam from the US 101 span, which was replaced with a makeshift beam that was not as durable as the original one.  The East Kelley Lane Bridge is set to be replaced next year, unless the fiscal cliff issue in Washington delays the project indefinitely. The Pearson Bridge has long since been removed after a heavy vehicle tried crossing the bridge, and fell through the deck. While it has been a few years since the mishap, the county and state made haste in condemning the structure and tearing it down, while at the same time, posted even stricter sanctions on the rest of the bridges to ensure that the mishap never repeats itself. Hence the phrase “Obey the weight limit or this bridge will be closed!”

This leads to the request for more information on the origin of the Pearson Bridge- whether it was built in Harrison County or imported from outside even earlier than 1950. The other question is when and how did the accident on the bridge happened, which led to the bridge’s unfortunate downfall…..

The Harrison County bridges are being considered for the Ammann Awards in the category of Mystery Bridge, although it is unknown whether they will be nominated individually or as a group of bridges.

Horn’s Ferry Bridge revealed (at least partially):

In the last few months, some readers and locals have been contributing information and photos pertaining to the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County, Iowa and its unfortunate collapse 20 years ago. Here are some points to consider: The bridge was built twice: First time in 1881 and when erosion was undermining the east end of the bridge, two additional spans were built in 1929. Both by local contractors based in Des Moines. The original 1881 spans were built on stone piers supported by walnut pilings. According to many residents, the walnut pilings rotted away, causing the stone piers to crack and spall, contributing to the bridge’s closing in 1982 and its eventual collapse in 1991. The Camelback main span resembles a span that was located upstream, west of Red Rock Dam. Yet that bridge was removed when the Red Rock Dam was built in the 1960s. Here is a pic that Daryl Van Zee sent to the Chronicles a few months ago, taken by an unknown photographer and depicting the bridge as it was before its collapse.

Horn’s Ferry Bridge taken in the 1980s by an unknown photographer. Submitted by Daryl Van Zee.


Author’s notes:

1. Voting will begin for the Ammann Awards beginning 3 December. A number of entries have come in within the last few days. If you still want to submit, you have until 3 December to do so.


2. There will be some catching up with regards to the Book of the Month in December, as three books will be profiled, two for the months of October and November and one for December. Stay tuned.



Mystery Bridge Nr. 15: A Wadell A-frame truss in Texas

Photo taken by Aaron Leibold

There will be many candidates that will make it into the nominations for the Ammann Awards for the category of Mystery Bridges. This bridge is one of them. Photographed by fellow pontist Aaron Leibold, who operates a website devoted to bridgehunting in Texas, this bridge is very unique because of its truss design, which contradicts what was previous mentioned by other pontists and historians alike.

Located in the northern part of Baylor County north of Seymour and spanning a creek that is feeding into Lake Kemp, this bridge is unique because of a rare truss type that was developed by a world renowned civil engineer, J.A.L. Waddell. Born in Port Hope, Ontario (Candad) in 1854, Waddell emigrated to the US where he earned his engineering degree at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in New York in 1878, before teaching engineering at that institute and other educational institutions in the US, Canada and even Japan (at the Tokyo Technical Institute). While he was famous for constructing and patenting many movable bridges in North America, including the ASB Bridge in Kansas City– the only bridge in the world whose main bottom span lifts up toward the upper span in a hydraulic fashion- Wadell patented the many truss spans including his A-frame span. The Waddell truss consists of a Kingpost truss bridge with subdivided diagonal beams supporting the upper chord. There are a few pony trusses with this unique feature- like the Schonemann Park Bridge in Luverne, in Rock County, Minnesota, which was built in 1908 by the Hewett Bridge Company and after spanning the Rock River for 82 years, was relocated to this site in 1990. But there are two through truss spans of this kind left in the country- one over Cross Bayou near Shreveport, Louisiana and one at a park in Parkville, Missouri.

It is possible that this bridge is a Waddell truss, given its Warren truss design, which if true, it would join the ranks and contradict the claim that there are two Waddell A-frame trusses left. But even more puzzling is the fact that trusses can be seen below the bridge deck, thus creating a diamond-shaped truss span. This would make it one of the most unique trusses ever built in the country and one that is the last of its kind.

Albeit abandoned with its replacement span being constructed alongside it, the bridge is 45 feet long and eight feet wide and can easily be seen from the new bridge. Given its location in a remote area, the bridge is in no danger of being demolished, and it should not be given the rarity of the truss bridge. What is missing is more details about its history- who built it (and had the crazy idea to design the bridge), let alone when it was constructed. This is where the people in Baylor County, as well as the preservationists in Texas and people like you should chip in to help.

If you have any information about the bridge’s history, you can leave a comment at the end of this article and/or contact the Chronicles and Aaron Leibold. The contact information is enclosed below. The Waddell Truss bridge has already been nominated for the Ammann Award under Mystery Bridge, a new category that was established this year. Whether it will win or not depends on how the voters will perceive this bridge. From my point of view, the bridge does have a chance.


The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles:

Aaron Leibold:

Special thanks to Aaron Leibold for the nomination and the photo.

Bowstring Arch Bridge in Nebraska declared non-historic- demolition inevitable

Portal view of Steinhart Park Bowstring Arch Bridge. Photos courtesy of James McCray.


A Bowstring Arch Bridge that is not historic?

Before starting in on this subject, here’s a rhetorical question for all pontists and highway engineers who have pre-1950 bridges in their database: Why are historic bridges demolished and replaced? Is it because of structural issues? Is the cost for maintenance too high? What about liability and safety concerns?  And lastly, have you ever been in a situation where you have a historic bridge and you were forced to choose between tearing it down and replacing it or rehabilitating (or restoring) it to prolong its useful life?

Author’s note: Discussions and stories are welcomed both here as well as via facebook and LinkedIn.

There are many reasons for demolishing a historic bridge, but just as many reasons countering it in favor of rehabilitation and restoration, either for further use as a vehicular bridge or reuse as a recreational bridge.  However, one bridge in Otoe County, Nebraska is being replaced as part of the plan to reconstruct and expand the bike trail network, because it is not considered historic.  Logically speaking, if a historic bridge has little or no value in terms of aesthetic appearance and historical significance, or if it was altered to a point where its value has been compromised, it would be understandable.  What is driving historians, preservationists and pontists to the point of insanity is the fact that this bridge is a bowstring arch bridge, a truss type that is becoming rarer to find nowadays.

A bowstring arch bridge, in simple terms is a type of truss bridge where the top chord creates an arch span that is supported by vertical and diagonal beams. It is similar to the Parker Truss design except the fact that the top chord is curved and not polygonal like its cousin. Squire Whipple designed and patented the design in 1848 and various bridge builders have varied their design based on the design of the top chord.  The most common are those with the Phoenix columns (patented by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company) and the H-beam design with bolts sticking out on the top side, which was patented by the King Bridge Company. The longest bowstring arch bridge in the US is the 190-foot long Kern Bridge near Mankato in Minnesota, built in 1873 over the Le Seuer River and closed since 1990. The longest in the world is the Blackfriar’s Bridge over the London River in London, Ontario in southern Canada. The 1878 bridge has a span of 224 feet long. Both of these bridges are works of the Wrought Iron Bridge Company.

Oblique and close-up view of the bowstring arch bridge and the H-framed upper chord.

The Steinhart Park Bowstring Arch bridge, located at the park bearing its name west of Nebraska City is an example of a bowstring arch bridge with H-framed upper chords, but one that is rare in itself in Nebraska. It is unknown where the bridge was originally built, but records indicated that it was relocated to the park to span South Fork Table Creek several years ago. The only modifications done on the bridge was halving the width and replacing some bolts, but it remained in service until its closure because of safety concerns.  Plans were in the making to construct a bike trail that would encircle the western portion of the city and use the park as its hub point, as stated in a recent article by the Hamburg Reporter in Hamburg, Iowa.  This would include using the location of the bowstring arch bridge as a crossing. While the city received a grant for the bike trail network, construction was delayed due to the historic significance of the bridge, hence involving the state historical preservation office  to determine how historically significant the bridge really is.

The decision made by Jill Dolberg that the bowstring arch bridge is not considered historic despite its rarity cleared the last hurdle for the demolition of the structure to commence, but it has sparked an outcry from the bridge and preservation community regarding the treatment of historic bridges by the local government and private sectors.  It also contradicts the way historic bridges are being treated despite being modified for reuse. One has to look across the Missouri River into neighboring Iowa to see enough examples of historic bridges being reused, some of which still maintain their status on the National Register of Historic Places.  Two examples come to mind: the Yellow Smoke State Park Bridge in Dennison (Crawford County ) and the Moneek Bridge in Castalia (Winneshiek County).  The one in Crawford County was constructed in 1945, one of a dozen bowstring arch bridges built at that time to replace the ones that were destroyed in the flooding. The one at Castalia was built by Allen and McEvoy, local contractors , in 1872. Both were relocated to parks when they were rendered useless for vehicular traffic, and despite modifications, both were considered historically significant as they still are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To consider the bowstring arch bridge as non-historic serves as a slap in the face and leads to the question of whether the preservation policies that exist on the state and national levels are sufficient enough, or if tougher measures are needed to ensure that more funding and technical know-how as well as tougher sanctions against owners for neglecting historic properties are needed to ensure that all parties are better informed about the possibilities for restoring historic bridges and making them safer for people to use, while at the same time educate them on how to maintain historic places of interest, rather than neglect them like it was the case with this bridge.

As plans are underway to raze the bowstring arch bridge, making way for a modern and rather bland structure to take its place to serve the planned bike trail, many people will most likely pay homage to the bowstring arch bridge, while at the same time, protest this decision to let go of one of the rarities of Nebraska City. Already the city has lost two key Missouri River crossings to progress (a highway bridge and a railroad bridge built by George S. Morison), and the loss of this bridge will contribute to the city becoming more modern, at the expense of history. The decision to not consider the bowstring arch historic enough- and thus allowing the demolition to proceed- is being scrutinized by many as being one of the most illogical decisions made by a historian or any member working for a state historic preservation office in the country. It is definitely not winning any points with the author of the Chronicles, who might have an award ready for Nebraska City and the Nebraska SHPO to accept…..

Author’s note: Special thanks to James McCray for allowing the author to use of his photos for this article.

REMINDER: Do not forget! Nominations for the 2012 Ammann Awards are still being taken. Deadline for accepting photos, historic bridges and historic bridge preservationist is 1 December. At the moment we have a few entries, but if you submit your entries, the numbers will increase and we will have a wide selection to choose from regarding voting. Act now and make yourself and your entry known! More info can be found here.

Best Bridge Preservation Example Part 1: Answer to the Pop Quiz

Photo taken in August 2010

After a week of mulling, here is the answer to the Pop Quiz that I presented in the entry from last Monday:

The quiz question was which 1879 King Bridge Company bowstring arch bridge located in Jones County was relocated along the Wapsipinicon River to its final destination at a state park in Anamosa.

The bridge was considered historically significant according to state and historical standards, yet it sustained damage due to floods in 1993 and in 2003, replacement was ordered by the county due to structural issues. Yet given its significant contribution to the county’s history, it was dismantled and placed to the side while the concrete replacement bridge was built in its place. Efforts to relocate the structure started right away by the county preservation commission, which followed by some help from donors and volunteers and by the state of Iowa and ended with an unexpected contribution by Allan King Sloan, who was doing some research on the family bridge building empire which built the bridge.

When funding was found, the next step was to relocate the bridge, one span at a time. Given the hilly and almost mountainous landscape Jones County offers, hauling the spans by truck was eliminated due to dangerous curves and the danger that the span could fall off and be destroyed in the process. The next alternative was to airlift it, using CH-47 Chinook helicopters to do the honors. The relocation process occurred on 8 March, 2006 and the spans were placed on newly built but historically appealing stone piers without any issues. The process was televised by many TV stations in the region and documented by the History Channel for its series “Mega Movers.”  Interesting enough, the bridge was delisted by the National Register of Historic Places when it was dismantled in 2003, but was relisted when the project was finished.

Any guesses on what the name of the bridge is?

Here it is:  The Hale Bridge.

There are a lot of features to see at Wapsipinicon State Park in Anamosa, Iowa, including a pair of stone arch bridges and a Pratt through truss bridge, but the tour of the park and its beautiful but rocky landscape would not be complete without a stop at the Hale Bridge, located on the east end of the park spanning the same river as it did at its original location. Beautifully renovated with new bolt connections, new flooring and a sleak black color, this bridge is a must-see for all history and bridge enthusiasts. It is one of the first bridges that was relocated in the air and definitely the longest in the state that was transported that way. The Hale Bridge set the precedent for other bridges to follow suit with talks of another bowstring arch bridge in Yell County possibly receiving the same treatment in the future.

Answer is the Hale Bridge, one the first to be relocated by air.  We will now move on to the next successful example of historic bridge presevation, which is……..

Author’s Note: Please click on the words highlighted in the text to access the videos and manuscripts on the move. Enjoy both of them.

Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop now open

Are you looking for that ideal gift for your friend or loved one and still don’t know what to get him/her? Perhaps that person is a bridge enthusiast or would like something with scenery and/or quotes to start off each day. Or is that person lacking some office materials to start the day?
Just in time for the holiday season, the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online shop has opened its doors for you to stop in and find that perfect gift for you. Inspired by the two online columns, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and the Flensburg Files, the Online shop has everything you need to fulfill your needs, whether it is a calendar showcasing the bridges in the US, Europe and elsewhere, postcards with various themes, mousepads with various photos, notepads, and the like. All photos are courtesy of the author, Jason D. Smith.  To view the shop, please click on the link below:

Here are the featured products you will see this holiday season at the shop:

2013 Calendar on Iowa’s Truss Bridges:  This calendar showcases the finest vintage truss bridges serving the Hawkeye State with information on the location, bridge type and other facts for each of the bridges featured. Proceeds will go towards the book project on Iowa’s historic truss bridges, which started earlier this year and is currently in full gear.


2013 Calendar on the Bridges of Germany:  This calendar features a wide array of bridges that are unique for the Bundesrepublik, ranging from the Kramer House Bridge in Erfurt to the Balduin Bridge in Coblence (both part of UNESCO’s World Heritage), the Oberbaum Bridge in Berlin to the Bridge of Friendship in Flensburg, with facts and information for you to enjoy, let alone to use as an incentive to visit these places.


2013 Wall Calendar Rendsburg High Bridge: Available both in German and in English, the 2013 wall calendar features one of the finest technical treasures that is a must see, while visiting Germany: The Rendsburg High Bridge (German: Die Rendsburger Hochbruecke). Built in 1913 by Friedrich Voss and spanning the Baltic-North Sea Canal (German: Nord-Ostsee Kanal), the bridge is one of the rarest in the world, for its main span features a cantilever truss span on top and a transporter span at the bottom. In addition, it has an elliptical approach span that soars above the city of Rendsburg with its concrete arch and steel trestles. Apart from the beautiful pic taken by the author, there are two other incentives for you to buy this product: the bridge will be 100 years old next year and is up for nomination to be listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Plus there are many other products for you to choose from. Please check out the site and if you see something you like, there are many ways to order.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the author at the Chronicles at

Again, thank you for shopping the Flensburg-Bridgehunter Online Shop.

Best Bridge Preservation Example 1

Photo taken in 2010

The Bridgehunter’s Preservation Pop Quiz #1:

While this segment is the second of many articles to come on the best preservation examples, I’ve decided to offer the readers a small homework assignment due next Monday in a form of a Pop Quiz (again, the first of many to come).

This quiz question deals with this bridge. Located in southeastern Iowa, this bridge a classic example of a structure built by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland. Yet this 1879 bridge features three bowstring arch spans made of iron- two pony and one through. Originally built over the Wapsipinicon River near the town of Oxford Junction in eastern Jones County, it was relocated to the county seat of Anamosa to be erected- over the Wapsi again! The photo seen above is the bridge at its present location, just outside Wapsi State Park. However, it was moved in a very unique way (and it was documented and filmed by many groups).

Name that bridge and how was bowstring arch structure relocated?

While many of us pontists and locals  know the answer, this is open to those who are neither pontists nor residents of Jones County. Please leave your comments at the end of the article.

The answer will come next Monday with information about the move. Good luck!













Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: An Author’s Perspective

Photo taken in August 2010

To start off this column, I would like to start with a quote in connection with the results of the Presidential Elections: “When you give someone a Herculean task, which takes a lot of time to complete, you do not remove him from these tasks when he is halfway finished. You allow him to finish the work so that he and the people can take pride in a job well done.”  The results of the Presidential Elections on Tuesday clearly shows how far President Obama has come in bringing the US and other countries affected by the 2008 meltdown and the Great Recession that followed. Despite the successes, there are still some tasks to be completed in the next four years, and despite Romney’s campaign to defame the President for not being fast enough on job growth, the majority of Americans feel safer with him finishing the job instead of allowing somebody else to dismantle the policies that had been helping Americans during the first four years in office.

This also implies with historic bridge preservation in the US and its connection with infrastructural woes the country has still been having since the I-35W Bridge disaster in 2007.  In 2009, the federal government appropriated $62 billion over the next four years to be spent on improving the infrastructure. Yet a tiny fraction of that money was spent on historic bridge preservation, thus jeopardizing the future of the remaining historic bridges that are on America’s streets. Sadly, given the situation involving the weak economy and the fiscal cliff which America is fast approaching, it is expected that infrastructure spending on the federal level will drop by up to 70% by 2016. According to the Urban Land Institute, over $2 trillion will be needed for upgrading the infrastructure by 2019.  A chart provided by Business Insider shows the collapse in the money spent for the infrastructure in general. This is not good, given the fact that 11% of the country’s bridges (69,223) are rated structurally deficient. Furthermore, the country is struggling to catch up even repairing a short-span crossing because of the lack of funds from the state and federal governments.

This is not good for historic bridge preservation as funding needed for even rehabilitating them for reuse as a pedestrian bridge has also decreased. To compound the situation, either the funding for that aspect was either ignored or lambasted- considered as the waste of money. Challenger Mitt Romney would have eliminated funding for historic bridge preservation as an example of government wasting, as he claimed during his campaign in New Hampshire in May 2012. How President Obama will handle this issue remains to be seen. As seen in the 2008 Proposal by James Garvin, historic bridges have been the target for progress and modernization as two thirds of the number have been lost since the 1980s and funding has focused more towards bridge replacement than bridge rehabilitation and/or preservation.  Still, despite the decrease in the number of lost bridges built prior to 1950, we are seeing more nationally famous historic bridges and those with ornamental decorations  as well as bridges that have the potential of being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places destroyed than at the time during the time between 1990 and 2008.  During Obama’s first four years in office, 721 bridges have been demolished, down from 883 in the last four years of the presidency of George W. Bush. During his eight years in office, as many as 2528 historic bridges met the wrecking ball.


But bridges, like the Lake Champlain, Foxburg, Upper Bluffton, Fort Keogh, Rock Island Inver Grove Heights and Carquinez at Sacramento became part of the history books instead of a real live monument for future generations to see. Some of them fell victim to natural disasters, others were demolished despite being out of the way of the new bridge and some because of stupid decisions made by government officials using liability as a weapon and drivers who are illiterate enough not to read the weight and height restrictions. In any case there seems to be a trend towards modernization even though a wider slab of concrete will last half as long as truss bridges and a third as long as stone arch bridges in order to reduce cost and liability issues- both of these definitions will need to be clarified before we can move on to the other issues at hand.

Despite the slaughter of historic bridges, the trend towards historic bridge preservation has been growing in the past 10 years, as new methods of bridge restoration and rehabilitation has fostered job growth in professions, such as welding and bridge design, and produced many engineering and restoration firms with the sole purpose of restoring historic buildings and bridges. We have seen a growth in historic bridges on former railroad lines preserved for bike trails, and we have at least a dozen parks devoted towards historic bridges, including the F.W. Kent Park in Tiffin, Iowa and the Historic Bridge Park near Kalmazoo, Michigan. The trend is increasing.  Awareness of the importance of historic bridge preservation through print and electronic media has also increased over the course of three years with more people taking interest in the topic, through reading up on the information, participating in public forums and even conferences devoted towards historic bridges, such as the Historic Bridge Conferences, which have been held every summer since 2009 and Webinars hosted by many companies in the private sector, like Mead and Hunt. As long as the interest is high and/or increasing, measures will be needed to support the movement and place historic bridges on par with the need to improve the infrastructure.

So what will happen in the next four years and how will Obama tackle the issue of infrastructure and with that historic bridge preservation? We know that the issues will be addressed per se, but not right away as more important issues will have to be covered, among them the fiscal cliff, where if cuts are not made by Washington and a budget is balanced, the cuts will automatically be in place come 1 January 2013, putting the US into another recession. This will be fatal for any funding that comes out of Washington for the two important subjects. Yet if the compromise is made (and given the will that is there between the Democrats and the Republicans, it seems very likely), the outlook for the US economy is good, with healthy 3% GDP growth expected in the coming years. This will mean more money coming in for handling these two issues. The question is how to allocate the funding in a way that the rate of demolition of historic bridges is stemmed to an absolute minimum, including finding ways to relocate them for recreational purposes and encouraging rehabilitation thanks to the techniques that have been carried out successfully and disseminated to the rest of the public so that others can use it as reference for their own restoration projects.

Some of the proposals provided by Garvin were accepted, but it is clear that funding inequality, misunderstanding and irrelevant policies are three key hindrances that have prevented more historic bridges from being restored. These issues will need to be resolved in order to for historic bridge preservation to be successful. This will include strengthening regulations to ensure that there is more protection for historic bridges that are either eligible for or are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  As we are seeing education possibilities increase in the areas of welding and other professions involving restoring places of interest, more funding for community colleges and other institutions of secondary information will needed in order to encourage people to embrace these fields, as the need for these workers is increasing.

If we in the bridge mafia are able to convince Obama that historic bridge preservation is important, we will need to make ourselves known to Congress, using a variety of techniques that are considered practical and under budget. A new proposal for funding is needed, combining all the information that was provided in the 2008 Proposal as well as suggestions presented by other members of the community. It must include stricter regulations, but also guidelines and incentives to saving historic bridges.  More awareness of preservation versus progress is needed among our politicians, agencies, even educators, using real live examples of how preservation can benefit everyone in terms of cost-cutting and preserving history. We need to strongly encourage the media to be involved in the work of preservation, using the best examples of successful preservation practices that have occurred over the past 10 years. And we need to encourage accountability for anything that may happen to the bridge because of man-made incidents. That means those who damage or destroy a historic bridge because of disregard to the restrictions should be held accountable. It also means using tools to help owners maintain their historic bridge for years to come. If the proposals we present to Congress are successful, it will be a huge win for the historic bridges, for they have been treated like stepchildren in the shadow of our nation’s infrastructure and all of its shortcomings that are as severe as the number of historic bridges, which have dwindled by two thirds since 1985.

President Obama took on a task which was as huge as Beowulf manhandling the monsters and demons that terrorized the Danish Kingdom, as depicted in an Old English story. Yet despite successes in the first four years, there are still many shortcomings that need to be addressed. We can only hope that he can spend some time with his wife and two daughters at a historic bridge park to see how important historic bridges are to America’s infrastructure and its history and take action to preserve the few that are still left standing. Only when he finishes the job (one of many) will be be honored for his work, similar to how Beowulf was honored for his deeds to the people.