Historic Bridge Awareness Month: Interview with Craig Holstein

November is coming to a close, and with that the National Historic Bridge Month, a month where we take a look at the accomplishments involving preserving historic bridges in the US and elsewhere. This year, we have seen many more bridges preserved or in planning for preservation than in the past years. Part of this has to do with cost-cutting measures to repair the structure and prolong their lifespans. But another part has to do with the increased interest among residents and pontists to preserve the relicts that have contributed to the development of the infrastructure of the US, Europe and elsewhere.

To understand the importance of historic bridge awareness, Chris Hansen had a chance to interview Craig Holstein, historian of the Washington State Department of Transportation, for his talk show, Northwest Live, produced by Seattle-based radio station, KPQ. Although the state had been under scrutiny because of the collapse of the Skagit River I-5 Bridge while at the same time been criticized for losing many historic bridges in the last decade, the state has more bridges built before 1945 than previously thought. Washington has several claims in the construction of bridges, including Galloping Gertie and pontoon bridges, and therefore, to better understand more about Washington’s historic bridges, I’ve enclosed a link with some listening comprehension questions for you to answer and discuss in the Chronicles’ forum, either via facebook or directly here. Listen to the interview with Holstein and best of luck with the questions. The answers will be provided in two weeks. 🙂



McMillan Bridge, the lone concrete truss bridge in Washington state. HABS/HAER











How many concrete truss bridges exist in the US?


Washington state was famous for concrete pontoon bridges. Who were the masterminds behind the development?


Galloping Gertie is the nickname of what bridge and why did it receive this nickname?

True or False: The pontoon bridge was open in the same year as Galloping Gertie.

How many roadway bridges exist in Washington state?

  1. 6000
  2. 7000
  3. 8000
  4. 9000

Washington state has only _____ covered bridge(s) in comparison with over _____ Oregon has.


True or False: Washington state has no book on historic bridges.


True or False: An Interstate Bridge over the Columbia Bridge will not be rebuilt.


Which historic bridge is the oldest still in service? Name the bridge, when it was built and where it was located.




Clifton Suspension Bridge Turns 150

Deck view of the bridge. Photo courtesy of Laura Hilton

150th Anniversary Celebrations to take place in December with concert, bridge walk and fireworks

BRISTOL (UK)- Before John Roebling made his mark with the construction of wire suspension bridges in Cincinnati (1869) and Brooklyn (1883), suspension bridges were built using chain cables to support the wooden decking. Chained suspension bridges are one of the oldest and rarest to build. The Clifton Suspension Bridge is one of a few examples of such bridges that can be found in Europe. Built in 1864, the bridge was one of the prized works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a well-known bridge engineer who constructed numerous landmarks on the British Isle for three decades, during the time where Victorian architecture was becoming popular.  In fact, Brunel was 23 when construction of the bridge started in 1831, and it was his first solo project.  He died just before the project was completed 33 years later. The bridge was eventually dedicated in his honor upon its completion by his colleagues, William Barlow and John Hawkshaw.  Spanning the Avon Gorge between Clifton in Bristol and Leigh Woods in North Somerset, the bridge is one of the key symbols of Bristol, as it can be seen on several postcards and other souvenirs. Over 8,800 cars cross the structure daily. And the bridge has set some historic marks worth noting. With its decking being 75m (or 245 feet) above the River Avon, the bridge was the highest structure in the world built above the water when it was built, and it became the source of its first bungee jumping event in 1979. The last ever Concorde flight went over the bridge in 2003, the bridge was the centerpiece of the 200th birthday of Brunel in 2006 and the passing of the Olympic torch occurred on the bridge in 2012, enroute to London, the venue of the Summer Games.

Now there is another reason for celebration: the bridge turns 150 years old.

To honor the bridge and Brunel, the communities the bridge serves, together with the Volunteers of the Brunel Suspension Bridge are hosting the 150th anniversary celebrations, scheduled to take place beginning December 6th, with the procession taking place December 8th, the 150th anniversary of the bridge’s dedication and opening. A reenactment of the opening ceremony is being scheduled for that day, while a treasure hunt is scheduled for the 6th.  More information can be found via link (here) as well as the Clifton Suspension Bridge’s facebook page (here). Additional events will follow, which includes the bridge walk in January (more information here.) A concert is scheduled to take place on 22 November. According to Laura Hilton, the ceremonies also include the opening of the new visitors’ center and lastly, even a musical piece, TV programme, theatrical and computer app are planned honoring the bridge. While the bridge has attracted 1 million visitors and 4 million motorists annually, the number is expected to increase when the celebrations are in full swing in December.

Even if you do not have the opportunity to visit the bridge during the celebrations, the visitors’ center is open daily and provides guided tours, providing people with a chance to learn about Brunel and the construction of the bridge. For more information, please click here for details.

While the Clifton Suspension Bridge has received many accolades over the years because of its historic significance and magnificant design, it may have another title or two in January, for the bridge is nominated for the Othmar H. Ammann Awards by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles for Bridge of the Year for 2014. Voting for the bridge is scheduled for December with the winner being announced in January. More information to follow.

Opening ceremony of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1864. Photo courtesy of Laure Hilton




Swing Bridge in Lübeck to be Rehabilitated

Photo taken in October 2013

Lübeck, Germany-  It is touted as the third oldest swing bridge in Germany and one of the last two swing bridges remaining in Schleswig-Holstein. Now the 1892 Drehbrücke, spanning the Trave River between Lübeck’s suburbs of St. Lorenz and the City Center (or Altstadt (Old Town)) is receiving a much-needed facelift.

The Crane ENAK lifted the truss span out of the water and the structure was transported to an undisclosed location, where it will be rehabilitated. The three curved Howe trusses (the center one dividing the street) will be sandblasted and redone, while the hydraulic motorwill be overhauled. The project is expected to take seven months to complete at a cost of 3.6 million Euros, and will cause some headaches for travellers having to use the Holsten Bridge and Puppebrücke, both located 1 kilometer south of the crossing to drive to St. Lorenz, as Willy Brandt Alle, where the bridge is located, will be closed during the reconstruction period.

Listed as a German Heritage Site, the Drehbrücke once served as a joint railroad and street crossing until the 1980s when the line was abandoned and the bridge became a two-way divided crossing. Its mechanism features a hydraulic motor, which lifts the bridge 16 meters before the rollers turn the bridge to a 70° angle. A video showing the bridge in the open position before closing can be found here:

This is the second bridge that Lübeck is replacing or restoring since 2013. The Posehlbrücke spanning the Elbe-Lübeck Canal in the eastern part of Lübeck was replaced last year, despite being built in 1956. The City is catching up on rehabilitating or replacing many of its bridges because of structural deficiencies found in the inspection reports so far, trying to eliminate the title of the “Stadt der Maroden Brücken” (Raw translation: City of Broken Down Bridges). But recognizing the structural integrity and historic significance of the bridge together with it popularity among residents, the city has taken a conservative approach and is keeping a piece of history by giving it a much-needed rehabilitation, so that it can serve traffic for another 122 years. And it is no surprise: the bridge will be 125 years old in 2017 and by that time, the it will function just like new- right in time for the celebration. 🙂  The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you updated on the progress of this bridge.

A video captioning the lifting of the bridge can be seen below, but German station NDR1 has pictures of the event, which you can click here.

Last year, the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles did a special coverage on Lübeck’s historic bridges, including this bridge. More on the bridges that should be visited can be found here. They include pictures which you can click on the links for access. The city’s bridges finished in second place on the international scale and third all around in the Othmar H. Ammann Awards last year under the category of City Tour Guide.


Fairfax and Platte Purchase Bridges Coming Down

Fairfax (left) and Platt Purchase (right). Photo taken by James Baughn in Aug. 2011

KANSAS CITY-  The Kansas City Royals baseball team finally snapped out of their doldrums this year and not only reached the playoffs in Major League Baseball for the first time since 1985, but was two runs shy of winning their first World Series in 29 years.  Yet the city has lost over half its pre-1945 bridges during that time span. With the Fairfax and Platte Purchase Bridges coming down this year, the trend seems to be continuing without slowing down.

Work is underway to replace the twin cantilever Warren through truss bridges that span the Missouri River, carrying US Hwy. 69 from I-635 in Kansas City into Wyandotte County Kansas. The spans feature a southbound span built in 1935 and a northbound span built 22 years later. Specifically, here are some details about the bridges:

Photo taken by the author in August 2011

Fairfax Bridge:

Location: Missouri River at US Hwy. 69 southbound

Built: 1935 by the Kansas City Bridge Company

Length: 2,594 feet total; largest span is 470 feet

Width: 20 feet

Last rehabilitated: 1979

Photo taken by the author in Aug. 2011

Platte Purchase Bridge:

Location: Missouri River at US 69 northbound

Built: 1957 (presumably by the same company)

Length: 2,601 feet; largest span is 474 feet

Width: 25.9 feet

Last rehabilitated: 1997

The plan is to replace the twin spans with one span that will accommodate six lanes of traffic. The project has already started with the southbound lanes being shifted onto the Platte Purchase Bridge and the Fairfax Bridge being demolished first. As soon as the new bridge is completed by late 2016, the Platte Purchase Bridge will follow suit. Both of the bridges, which had once collected tolls until 2000, had been made available for taking by the Missouri Department of Transportation until May of this year, when no takers were announced and the decision was made to turn these beautiful spans into a pile of scrap metal. The Fairfax Bridge, named after the city in Kansas, had been considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places The Platte Purchase Bridge was named after the Platte Purchase of 1836, where Missouri annexed the northwestern part of the state along the Missouri River up to the Iowa border, including the suburbs that belong to Kansas City today. That purchase was in violation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which drew the border between the free states and territories of the north and those of the south, including Missouri. Yet the two are the latest casualties of truss bridges along the Missouri River that are dwindling rapidly in numbers. Since 1990, over 80% of the pre-1950 bridges along the second longest waterway in the United States have been replaced with only a handful of examples being kept for recreational and historic purposes. This includes the Paseo Bridge, located downstream in Kansas City. The 1950 suspension bridge over the Missouri River carrying I-29 was replaced by the Christopher Bond Bridge in 2010 and later removed. While Kansas City still has a large number of historic bridges, including those along the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, as will be shown in the Chronicles’ tour guide, the numbers are decreasing. And with the Fairfax and Platte Purchase Bridges coming down within the next two years, we could see numerous other examples being torn down in favor of modern but bland structures less appealing to travelers and tourists. While the Royals may have woken up after a long sleep and suddenly become contenders again, it is time for the rest of the city to wake up, look at their heritage and see to it that some of it is saved before it is too late- before we can only see them on youtube videos, as seen below:


More on the bridge replacement project can be found here.