Milan Bridge in Minnesota: A Bridge Unwanted

Photo taken in December, 2010

Sometimes it takes courage and sacrifice to get a photo of a jewel like this bridge. When visiting the Milan Bridge in Lac Que Parle County, Minnesota, in December 2010, I had the lovely experience of photographing this bridge in crystal clear sunlight. However, it almost came at a price when leaving to head north to Little Falls, when my mini SUV almost got stuck in the snow while leaving the boat ramp located next to the bridge. Yet when looking at the situation the bridge is in right now, there are no regrets that I took the time to photograph this bridge, despite the fact that when it was taken, a strong storm system was to move in a couple hours later, bringing ice, snow and high winds, thus making travel anywhere dangerous…..

The Milan Bridge is one of only 29 historic bridges left in Minnesota that is being looked after by the state’s department of transportation (MnDOT). The bridge was built by the Theodore Jensen Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa in 1938, replacing an earlier truss bridge, a Pratt through truss type, that had been built in 1901 by the American Bridge Company but was relocated when this bridge came in. The steel for the truss superstructure was provided by the Minneapolis-Moline Steel Company. Originally, the bridge had Howe lattice portal bracings to go along with the rest of the structure, a parker through truss bridge with riveted connections and concrete approach spans. The portals were raised by cutting off the lower half and encasing the upper half in steel in 1967, thus making the vertical clearance of 16 feet. The bridge intself is longer than its predecessor- 210 feet long with a 17 foot roadway width.

Milan Bridge at the time of its completion in 1938. Photo taken by MnDOT
Milan Bridge at the time of its completion in 1938. Photo taken by MnDOT

The construction of the bridge was part of the Works Progress Administration project, initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1936 with the goals of improving the infrastructure throughout America and getting many of the 33% unemployed Americans back into the workforce. The construction of the bridge was part of the plan to improve the flood plain area along the Minnesota River, which included the creation of Lac Que Parle Lake by damming the river near Appleton. This happened in 1939, shortly after the bridge was built.  Minnesota Hwy. 40 was supposed to be a key link between Milan and Madison (going west to South Dakota), yet in comparison with the other highways crossing the Minnesota River (US 12  to the north and US 212 to the south), the number of vehicles crossing at this location is punitive because of the proximity of the highways to the nearest cities with more inhabitants than the towns Hwy. 40 connects. US 12 connects Minneapolis with Aberdeen, South Dakota, but crosses the river at Ortonville. Hwy. 212, which crosses at Montevideo, also starts in the Twin Cities but heads west to Watertown, also in South Dakota. There is also MN Hwy. 119, whose crossing is located south of Appleton but north of the bridge at Milan.

This leads to the situation that the bridge is currently in. MnDOT plans to rehabilitate the bridge by replacing the decking, repairing some truss parts and repainting the entire superstructure, which is currently blue but the paint has peeled off. It was supposed to begin this year, but a petition by local residents put a halt to the plans, at least temporarily. This task force wants the bridge to be replaced in its entirety because it does not meet the current needs and is structurally deficient. This is a rare case where a state, which owns the historic bridge, wants to prolong the structure but residents don’t want that. Their concerns were addressed in April prompting the state agency to hit pause and table the decision until April 2016. According to federal law, because the bridge is located in a historic district like Lac Que Parle, “…the state to rehabilitate rather than replace historic structures, unless there is “’no feasible and prudent alternative.’’’   Little does the task force realizes is that the cost for rehabilitating the bridge is estimated to be between $2.3 and 3 million, half the amount needed to replace the bridge. In addition, there is no guarantee if and when funding would be available for replacing the bridge, let alone when construction would begin on the bridge.

Originally, had there not been any objections, rehabilitation would have begun in November and been completed by the spring. Now with opposition to the project being brought forward, the decision of whether MnDOT to proceed with the rehabilitation will come in the spring. It is more of a question of whether it makes sense to wait until earliest 2020 to replace a bridge that takes between 300 and 600 cars a day- a third of the amount of its neighboring highway crossings at US 12 and 212, or simply proceed and ask residents to consider alternatives. This includes using alternative crossings or even lightening the load and size before crossing the bridge. Given the crossing’s proximity, sometimes just allowing for a small fix on a landmark destined to be a National Register monument is worth the price. And alternatives can in the long term save more money than having to spend more on a new bridge, whose lifespan is half of what bridges, like this one has. The average life of a concrete bridge is approxinately 35-40 years, while the current Milan Bridge is turning 78 years old this year. Most truss bridges can live twice as long if properly maintained- a logical conclusion that is being taken into account for rehabbing the bridge.

So what option would you favor: spending excessive amounts of money for a concrete bridge that is wider and has no clearance, but has a lifespan of 40 years, or rehabilitate the current bridge, prolonging it for 60-80 years and having travellers with wide loads use other crossings? Look at the map and then think about it. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest and will inform you when the decision is made…..

milan bridge2
Photo by MnDOT in 1938
Portal view with current weight limit. Photo taken in December 2010

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Greenfield Bridge brought down by explosives

Photo taken by Nathan Holth

93-year old historic bridge in dire straits put out of its misery together with a falsework bridge beneath it.

PITTSBURGH-  It was a posterboy of Pennsylvania’s infrastructure, touted as one of the worst in the country, but it was a classic example of a bridge whose life would have extended beyond a century, had the state and Allegheny County each contributed enough money for rehabilitating the structure. Now the Greenfield Bridge, a 1922 open spandrel concrete deck arch bridge has become a piece of history, and an example of wasted tax dollars that could have better been spent maintaining it!

Crews imploded the 142 meter long (466 ft.) bridge, a work of the local bridge builder E.M. Wichert, this morning, dropping it and the falsework bridge onto Interstate 376. The explosion took a few seconds, albeit the scheduled demo was delayed by 20 minutes due to intruders in the vicinity, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The bridge carried Beechwood Blvd, spanning I-376, located between Oakland and Squirrel Hill Tunnel. A video shows the bridge being brought down below:

The bridge had deteriorated to a point where planning for a new span began in 2010 for a new span. Yet, according to Nathan Holth of, the deterioration could have been hindered had money been spent properly. “Countless historic bridges have been neglected and/or demolished and replaced for no other reason than that the system for funding bridge projects in the United States is severely flawed and encourages agencies to defer maintenance and rehabilitation until the bridge deteriorates to a serious condition, at which point those agencies are rewarded with demolition and full replacement funds from the federal government. This system has destroyed history, wasted tax dollars, and probably reduced safety as well,” he mentioned in his website. He later adds, “The system need considerable reform, so that greater quantities of funding are provided from the federal government to state and local agencies for the purpose of bridge maintenance and rehabilitation, thus reducing the need for costly, destructive, and inconvenient replacement projects. At the same time, state and local agencies should have to pay a larger percentage of the cost for replacing a bridge, which would decrease the incentive for deferring maintenance and letting a bridge deteriorate.” Because of concrete pieces falling off the bridge, a falsework bridge was built over the Interstate to catch the debris at a cost of $700,000, something Holth and other preservationists have considered a waste of money. That bridge was also brought down along with the arch bridge.

The Greenfield Bridge had been listed as one of 13 pre-1940 concrete arch bridges in the greater Pittsburgh area that needed attention as far as preservation and the National Register of Historic Places are concerned. Unfortunately, once the Interstate is cleared of all the debris from the wrecked bridges, a steel arch bridge will be put into place, expected to be open to traffic by the end of next year. According to sources, railings and other features will mimic the bridge lost to history. Yet it will never resemble the bridge that became a victim of a system in dire need of reform to reduce the amount of wasted money and preserve some history, something Pittsburgh has taken pride in with the city’s numerous bridges.

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Mystery Bridge Nr. 62: Paoli’s Bowstring Arch Bridges

Gospel Street Pedestrian Bridge. Photo taken by Tony Dillon in 2010

Paoli, Indiana has a few notable historic bridges, both past and present, each of which have a unique story. Apart from the now destroyed by two careless driving women carrying tons of water Gospel Street Bridge, built in 1880 by the Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company, the town had one of the longest wooden trestle railroad bridges, which was later replaced by a steel structure. Then it has these two bowstring arch bridges, both spanning Lick Creek.  Each one has welded and riveted connections with the top chord being a T-beam. Each one has a main span of 40 feet with approach spans of 30 feet each. While not confirmed, sources pinpoint the date of construction to the 1930s, although it is not clear who built the bridge and how. Given the fact that light steel was used for both crossings, it is possible that they were built using recycled steel that had been used for a historic building or bridge. This concept was used in Iowa during the 1940s in Crawford County (when many crossings that were wiped out were replaced by these bowstring arch spans) and in the 1980s when two trusses from an old building were assembled to create a crossing at F.W. Kent Park near Iowa City.

The difference  between the two crossings- at Gospel Street and at Cherry Street is the truss type. While Gospel Street has a Howe lattice truss type, the one at Cherry Street has a Warren truss type. But even that difference is overshadowed by the fact that there is not much information on the history of the two crossings otherwise- neither the exact date nor the bridge builder.

Or is there? If so, please feel free to comment or contact the Chronicles, using the contact info in the page About the BHC. Any leads will help contribute to knowing more about the bridges and why they are used as pedestrian crossings, let alone preserve what is left of Paoli’s bridge history. With two major HBs down, it is the responsibility of the city to save what is left of the town’s history, and this by knowing more about the crossings that still exist.

Cherry Street Bowstring Arch Bridge. Photo taken by Tony Dillon on 2012


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Semi-truck destroys Historic Bridge in Indiana Town

Photo taken by Tony Dillon in 2010

1880 Bridge built by Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company destroyed by semi-truck.

PAOLI, INDIANA- Normally on Christmas Day, Santa Claus brings good tidings and gifts to all the families and their children. This also includes any support for preserving historic bridges.

Unfortunately, for the community of Paoli in southern Indiana, Santa Claus was not kind to them at all, as the small community lost a treasured historic landmark that had once spanned Lick Creek on Gospel Street.

On Christmas Day in the afternoon, a semi-truck driver, ignoring the weight limit got herself wedged inside an iron through truss bridge, causing the semi-truck and the structure to drop in the water in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, she and a passenger were not injured in the wreck, but beams had to be cut apart to allow crews to free the truck and get it out of the water. In addition, 35 tons of bottled water had to be removed from the truck before it could be pulled out of the water. The weight limit was six tons at the time of the accident. Charges of reckless driving and damage to property are expected, according to multiple sources. This is the second time in two weeks that an accident involving a truckload of beverages has occurred. An accident on the German Autobahn near Magdeburg in Germany two weeks ago resulted in a trucker losing his entire truckload of beer onto the highway, shutting it down for hours while crews cleared crates and broken glass from the highway.

The bridge sustained severe damage to the southern end, where the truck struck the top chord and is currently leaning to one side towards a pedestrian located next to it. That crossing was closed off temporarily for safety reasons. While traffic has been rerouted to the 1st Street Bridge to the west, chances are likely that the bridge will need to be rebuilt, which could take months to complete. Whether it will mimic the crossing brought down by the truck remains open as of right now.

The Gospel Street Bridge was an example of an iron truss bridge built by the Cleveland Bridge and Iron Company in neighboring Ohio, having been constructed in 1880. Only a handful exist today, mostly in Indiana and Ohio. The bridge was an eight-panel iron through truss bridge with Town Lattice bracings. The builder’s plaque was on each portal of the bridge. The length was 93 feet, making it one of the shortest crossings in Orange County. Also unique is a bowstring arch bridge, built in the 1930s, that is located right next to the bridge, used for pedestrian traffic only. That bridge is the subject of a Mystery Bridge article shown in the next article…..

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Chemnitz Viaduct: Future in Question

Chemnitz, a symbol of an industrial past time. Located in western Saxony south of Leipzig and near the towns of Zwickau and Glauchau, the city of 243,000 once prided itself on its industrial heritage, for the steel, automobile and railroad industries (among many of them), combined with its architecture once domonated the city. While traces of them can still be found amind the walls of modern architecture and the service sector, including displays at the Museum of Industrial Heritage, much of the city’s past is disappearing, together with the steady decline of the city’s population, for the local government and other actors in the private and public sectors are erasing the scars of World War II and the Cold War and replacing it with a modernized Chemnitz that fits the trend of the 21st Century, attracting younger people to the city.

The Chemnitz Viaduct is one of relicts of the industrial past time and a historic icon that most locals and preservationists are not willing to part. Also known as the Becker Viaduct, the bridge is located over the Chemnitz River, also crossing the Becker and Annaberg Streets in the southern part of the city, along what is locally known as the South Hook. The South Hook connects Chemnitz Central Station with Chemnitz South and Chemnitz Mitte stations, encircling much of the city. The 4 kilometer route once had four railroad tracks but today has two in service, all electrified since the 1960s, still connects Chemnitz with Hof and Nuremberg to the south, Glauchau and Gera to the west, and Dresden to the northeast.

The viaduct is one of two of its kind and one of five viaducts overall that can be found in Chemnitz. Yet the structure is the second longest, measured at 290 meters long, 30 meters wide and 12 meters high. The viaduct features two main spans over Becker Street and the river: steel deck arch spans using the K-truss. Invented by Phelps Johnson of the Dominion Bridge Company in Montreal, Canada, the K-truss first arrived in the United States in the 1920s and were used for many crossings through the 1940s, mainly in the southern states. They were also imported to Europe for use after World War II, when hundreds of major crossings were destroyed through bombings. Yet it is unknown when Johnson patented the truss, but according to local records, the Chemnitz Viaduct was built between 1902 and 1909, thus making the bridge one of the first to use the K-truss in its arch spans. A panoramic view of the bridge can be seen below, providing the reader with a description of what the bridge looks like in full length:

Photo courtesy of Dr. Benita Martin. Link:
Photo courtesy of Dr. Benita Martin. Link:

Despite its architectural and aesthetical value to the region, the days of the Chemnitz Viaduct may be numbered. The German Railways (Die Bahn) has unveiled plans to modernize the South Hook, which includes the demolition of over- and underpasses between Chemnitz Central Station and Chemnitz Mitte. The historic viaduct is among those to be demolished, as Die Bahn plans to replace it with a multiple span open spandrel steel deck arch bridge. This is part of the plan to modernize the Dresden-Hof-Nuremberg line to reintroduce the ICE-line beginning in 2030. The proposal has been met with protests by locals, preservationists and other organizations fearing that the viaduct is part of the city’s heritage and should be preserved at any cost. Already a cost analysis was presented by two different universities of technologies in Chemnitz and Cottbus. Each one projected the cost of preserving the bridge to be approximiately 20 million Euros and replacing the bridge at around 13 million Euros. Still, the majority of the public would rather invest more for saving and preserving the viaduct because of its integrity instead of letting it go in favor of bland concrete structures that can be replaced in a third of the time as the existence of this bridge. Furthermore, the viaduct has been listed as a national technical landmark, which makes replacing it almost impossible.

Despite this, Die Bahn seems dead set on starting the demolition process in 2019 and have the new bridge in service by 2023. Already the firm in Berlin has announced its plans and presented proposals. However, like it has tried doing with the Fehmarn Bridge in Schleswig Holstein- presenting the tunnel proposal and tearing down the world’s first basket handle tied-arch bridge, the firm seems to be disinterested in any alternatives provided by the city. By using scare tactics claiming that a new bridge is the best alternative towards maintaining the bridge for 20 years, the strategy has become a useless one, as protesters are increasing by the numbers to block any proposals. The Fehmarn Bridge replacement project is part of the plan to introduce the motorway and tunnel complex through Fehmarn Island, where opposition has gained traction and the project could be in jeopardy because of that. Here in Chemnitz, campaigns and meetings have attracted many people wanting to spend the extra money to save a piece of the city’s history. This includes a video of the bridge below, where the professor of civil engineering at the Cottbus University of Technology is providing a string backing for the preservation of this bridge…..

Legal actions and other measures are being planned between now and the start of the project in 2019, which means three years that can be used to block the proposed bridge replacement. While it is understandable that long-distance train service (Fernverkehr) is badly needed for the city, especially since the ICE trains stopped running in 2006, as long as the Chemnitz Viaduct is renovated and maintained  on a regular basis, it can handle increasing loads and save money on building a new bridge. Furthermore, people will be able to keep the bridge for another two generations or more, which will be a major plus for a city that has been scarred by architecture of the Third Reich and Cold War eras. While much of Chemnitz and its historic town cannot be replaced or replicated, what is left of the city can be saved for the future. The viaduct is one of those that should be on the list.


Author’s Note: More photos of the Chemnitz Viaduct can be found in the Chronicles’ facebook page, by clicking here. 

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