Newsflyer 27 May 2013






Update on the Historic Bridge Weekend in Iowa,  (Modern) Bridge Collapse in Missouri

In light of the Washington Bridge Collapse last Monday, one would point their fingers on bridge types as a way of pushing for them to be erased from the highway system. Yet Saturday’s collapse of another bridge in Missouri, built only 30 years ago, raises questions about how bridges are built and maintained and what changes should be made in that department. That plus an update on the upcoming Historic Bridge Weekend are found in this Newsflyer:

Photo taken by James Baughn

Railroad Overpass Collapses after Train Derailment/ Collision

Rockville, MO. Built in 1988, this combination steel and concrete girder, spanning two railroads just outside the town of Rockville (30 miles west of the Mississippi River in Scott County) and carrying Missouri Route M would not have expected a bridge disaster to happen, like it did on Saturday.  The 25-year old structure, expected to last at least 50 years carrying main traffic, had its life span cut short during that afternoon, when two trains collided, causing a derailment, and resulting in the bridge being destroyed. 21 people were injured in the wreck.  This disaster is one of the worst in bridge engineering, ranking it up there with the train wreck in Entschede, Germany on 3 June, 1998, destroying a railroad overpass and killing as many as 101 passengers. While the ICE Train, which was travelling at 80 mph before it derailed and folded together like an accordion, the trains at Rockville were going half the speed when the mishap happened.  While investigators will be looking at the behavior of the trains before it happens, the bridge collapse will raise questions about how bridges are being built and many will find ways to build structures that are able to withstand the abuse caused by all forms of transportation, especially given the light of an earlier bridge disaster in Washington.


Portal view of the rebuilt span. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

HB Weekend Travel Itinerary available online; Registration form available upon request.

In the past week, work has been undertaken on the travel itinerary for this year’s Historic Bridge Weekend in eastern Iowa, Des Moines and Boone County. Thanks to the app, Popplet, the itinerary is now available online for you to download. Please click onto the following links, zoom in and out and scroll down to see which bridges will be targeted for photo opportunities by many people expected to attend the 4-day event. The bridgehunting event will be a smorgasbord-style event, meaning even though there will be one or two primary tours to the most important bridges, pontists and bridge enthusiasts can elect to choose the bridges they want to see, while not missing out on the meetings and dinner/entertainment that will take place during that weekend.

Please note: The itinerary does NOT include the bridges of Linn and Marion Counties, for each party responsible for organizing the guided tour will have maps available for you in person. The Linn County tour will start on 10 August at 8:30am, whereas the Marion County tour will take place 11 August at 2:30pm. More information available here.

Itinerary Links:

Day 1

Day 2

Days 3 & 4

Author’s tip: While we will start on August 9 at Old Barn Resort in Preston, MN, the bridges that are highly recommended to visit during the weekend include:

The Bridges in Winneshiek and Fayette Counties, The Bridges of Lanesboro, MN, Motor Mill Bridge in Clayton Bridge, Elkader Arch Bridge, Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque, The Bridges of Jones, Linn and Johnson Counties (including the ones at F.W. Kent Park west of Iowa City), Cascade Bridge in Burlington, Ft. Madison Swing Bridge, The Des Moines River Bridges between Keokuk and Des Moines and of course the Kate Shelley and Wagon Wheel Bridges.

It may be possible that the last span of the CGW Railroad Bridge in Des Moines is still up when visiting it, but don’t hold your breath….

ALSO: Registration forms for the dinner and entertainment portion is available directly through the author. Please inquire by e-mail at either or and you will receive a form to fill out and return by no later than 15 July.  This is to determine how many people are expected at the venues. Payments will be collected at the event.

Bridge memorabilia is being sought for the silent auction taking place on 11 August at Bos Landen Golf Course in Pella. If you have bridge photos and items you want to part ways with, please bring them to the event or contact Jason Smith at the Chronicles.

REMINDER: Bridge information, etc. is still being sought for the Bridge Book Project, the Truss Bridges of Iowa, which the author is working on. An Information Box will be made available for you to contribute to the project. You can also talk with the author of the book at the evening events or while on the bridgehunting tour.  Or just send it via e-mail, which will get there quickly and directly.


My two cents: diet time for truck(-er)s crossing bridges

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2011

It is unknown which is worse this past week: torrential rains and unseasonably cold weather in Germany and parts of Europe as well as the US, or the bickering that has blossomed in light of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge disaster, which has reached new levels this weekend.  Already many massive media giants have decided to go with the Culture of Fear trend and have started bashing bridge types and incremental repairs to the aging structures in favor of more giantic concrete structures that can handle traffic for 100 years. This was clearly demonstrated in an Associated Press blog posted in the US Bridges website, which you can see here.

The response has been overwhelming. Many pontists and engineers have balked at the article, claiming that bridges can be maintained and rehabilitated without having to waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a concrete slab bridge, whose lifespan is half of that of other bridge types, such as trusses, cantilever trusses, suspension, and even arches. Some have responded by saying that they should talk to the real bridge experts than the politicians who think they know about the design specifics and how a bridge should be built, but in all reality, they do not even have a degree in civil engineering to prove it.

From a columnists’ point of view, the problem lies clearly on the deregulation of the transportation industry, where since the Reagan years (and the mentality of deregulation), we have seen an enormous increase in the number of vehicles that are overweight, oversized, or both, combined with drivers who do not know the limits of driving with this excessiveness. In the last 25 years, many roads, bridges and tunnels have taken a severe beating because of this high volume of traffic that is on the highways.

The collapse of the bridge in Washington should serve as a wake-up call to all politicians to pass tougher federal measures to put limits on the amount of load a truck is required to carry and enforce strict fines and other penalties for drivers violating these regulations. Furthermore, trucking companies should be required to invest in GPS technology suitable for trucks only to ensure that truck drivers choose the routes and crossings most appropriate to them.  And finally, truckers should take extra training, putting them in practical situations to have them prepare for the unexpected. While this may take more money than what is being invested, in the long term, it will pay more dividends than going on a Salem Bridge Witch Trial, tearing down bridges that are still in good condition, just because the media says that thousands of bridges are at risk of “a freak accident.”

One can point fingers at stupidity or bridge design flaws as the reason for bridges like Skagit to fail, and the Washington transportation officials will scramble to put a pair of Bailey Trusses in place of the fallen truss span while planning a bridge with no vertical clearance issues. Yet in all reality, we should have learned our lesson from another bridge disaster, namely the Minneapolis Bridge disaster of 2007, which is in order to have an efficient infrastructure that carries us from point A to point B, we need to give a little for the safety of other travellers using it as well. This applies to roads, bridges, tunnels, and the drivers who use them. Henceforth, less is more. Less of a load means a more prolonged life span for a bridge. This is something that we (and especially truck drivers) should consider in the future.