Interview With Amy Squitieri

Amy Squitieri of Mead & Hunt
Amy Squitieri of Mead & Hunt

If there is a slogan which best describes a pontist and a preservationist, it would be this: We breathe new life into bridges when they can no longer support the increasing amount of traffic. We maximize their usage so that other forms of transportation, such as bike and foot traffic, can benefit from it. We make sure that its history is documented and preserved for generations to come and they never go to waste.  Amy Squitieri has followed this rule of thumb throughout her career at Mead and Hunt, having documented dozens of historic bridges, and collaborating with other agencies and groups in preserving dozens more- all of which within her 23+ years at the company and also outside. However her interest in historic bridges came about through working at HABS/HAER and meeting the institute’s legend in the field, Eric DeLony. Her work in the field, carried over into her career at Mead and Hunt (where another historic bridge legend Robert Frame III has also set his mark in the company’s storied history), and thanks to her dedication, many historic bridges have indeed have been given new life in one way or another. This also includes seminars and other works on how to best preserve historic bridges even when funding on the state and federal levels are running thin.  Amy Squitieri was awarded the Lifetime Legacy Award by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles this past year, and despite running a tight schedule because of bridge-related obligations, I had a chance to do an online interview with her, talking about preservation, ways to overcome obstacles and success stories in her career. Here are some interesting facts about historic bridge preservation from her point of view. Enjoy! 🙂

 

  1. What is your favorite bridge in the USA and/or Europe? Why is it your favorite?

 

My current favorite is the Colorado Street Bridge in St. Paul, a large single-span, skewed masonry arch bridge built in 1888 (featured here). The street it carried was abandoned so it now stands forlorn in a public apartment complex. Its unusual arch ring features two different constructions: intrados of brick and extrados with alternating layers of limestone and brick.

 

  1. What got you interested in historic bridges? Any personal stories behind it is more than welcome?

 

My first job after graduate school (studied Architectural History at the University of Virginia) was with the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), working on the Rock Creek Parkway documentation in Washington D.C. Although it was a summer field project, due to the location we were housed in the main National Park Service office. This gave me the chance to work directly with Eric Delony, former chief of HAER and noted pontist. I was assigned as the bridge historian and documented 18 bridges that summer. Within a year, I was a consultant in Wisconsin and coincidentally among my first projects were evaluation and documentation of historic bridges.

 

  1. According to the website, you have been working for Mead & Hunt for many years. What does the company do in connection with historic bridges?

 

I’ve been at Mead & Hunt for 23 years and started our cultural resources practice, which includes our specialties in historic roads, bridges and other engineering structures. Mead & Hunt historians and bridge engineers work collaboratively on historic bridge projects nationwide. Our work includes bridge design for rehabilitation projects, statewide historic bridge inventories (conducted in 12 states), Section 106/4f coordination, NEPA documentation, structural analysis and feasibility/alternatives studies.

 

  1. Can you share some HB success stories involving Mead & Hunt?

 

We just completed rehabilitation of the Philippi Bridge in West Virginia, led by our Charleston office. The bridge was originally constructed in 1852 and has strong associations with the Civil War. It is the only covered bridge serving the U.S. Highway system and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. It was last restored by Emory Kemp in the late 1990s but had extensive deterioration in the roofing and siding. It was dedicated and reopened last month.

 

Mead & Hunt has worked on eligibility evaluations, historical documentation, alternatives studies and/or management plans for more than 200 historic bridges in Minnesota. I played a key role in developing the historian-engineer collaborative team approach to rehabilitating historic bridges implemented in Minnesota since 2007, which has now been applied in the preparation of 150+ individual management plans and ~35 rehabilitation projects. Mead & Hunt brings that same collaborative approach to every historic bridge project regardless of location.

 

IMG_5289
Philippi Covered Bridge in West Virgina

 

  1. Can you describe your role at Mead & Hunt? Slogan and reasons are welcome?

 

I work with a team of other historians and bridge engineers who collectively have many decades of experience with historic bridges of all types. My role on historic bridge projects is Principal Historian. Additionally I have several leadership roles at Mead & Hunt including Vice President, Group Leader and member of the Board of Directors. As a full-service engineering and architectural consulting firm, Mead & Hunt works nationally to deliver projects locally. I lead our Environment and Infrastructure Group to serve client needs in transportation, municipal infrastructure, environmental services, water/wastewater treatment, construction services, energy, and cultural resources. This group is comprised of a diverse team of engineering, environmental, technical, preservation and planning professionals. We function as a trusted partner to our clients, and that partnership results in consistently outstanding solutions.

 

  1. The words restore and rehabilitation are sometimes used interchangeably when talking about HBs. Is there a difference between them?

 

Absolutely there’s a difference. Restoration and rehabilitation are two of four separate standards defined within the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. The other two are preservation and reconstruction. Together the four standards cover the range of actions that may be applied to historic bridges.

 

Rehabilitation is the one we typically follow for historic bridge projects, because it allows for adaptation of a bridge to a new purpose and/or to meet modern design standards. This flexibility is important to developing alternatives and selecting an approach that meets the project’s purpose and need.

 

Restoration is the highest standard and can be difficult to achieve for a bridge that needs to meet a current use; however, it can be applied to restore materials and/or features from the bridge’s significant period. An example is returning lost light standards or restoring a bridge railing that was removed.

 

  1. What problems have you identified regarding the following and how have you (and others) found ways to counter them?

 

  • Rehabilitating HBs – Historic bridges have a wide range of engineering challenges including structural deterioration, inadequate load capacity, poor geometrics, etc. Project challenges include limited funding, lack of support for preservation, and some owners and engineers being unfamiliar with rehabilitation approaches. We’ve found success by helping owners prioritize and invest in historic bridges that are able to fulfill ongoing transportation needs (this makes it easier to find funding). See below for a new training course that is intended to help educate about successful rehabilitation approaches.

 

  • Repurposing HBs – Mead & Hunt helped Minnesota Department of Transportation reinstall the historic Silverdale Bridge as part of the Department of Natural Resources Gateway-Brown’s Creek Trail. The Gateway Trail Iron Bridge is a wrought iron truss bridge constructed in 1873 across Main Street in Sauk Center. In 1937, the bridge was dismantled and moved to Highway 65 in Koochiching County. A new bridge was needed to accommodate heavy logging trucks and modern traffic, so in 2009 the historic bridge was dismantled and stored. Built during the days of the horse and buggy, the bridge again serves horses, along with pedestrian and bicyclists on the Gateway Trail. Challenges included field riveting used for the first time in Minnesota in many decades.

 

  • Marketing HBs – We’re not involved in this often but have had previous success helping new owners accept and move several truss bridges in Wisconsin.

 

  • Restoring HBs – We’re not involved in restorations per se.

 

  1. HBs have dwindled by the hundreds over the past decade. Can you summarize from your perspective why they are being taken down without considering reuse?

 

Limited funding, especially for historic bridges that cannot continue to serve vehicular traffic, is a major challenge. In addition, bridge owners and engineers are often not familiar with available options beyond replacement. To help address this, a team of engineers and historians, including myself, developed a course that is now offered through the National Preservation Institute. The course, Historic Bridges: Management, Regulations, and Rehabilitation, teaches participants how a collaborative approach to rehabilitation projects benefits the regulatory and design process; and how they can identify and apply rehabilitation techniques that will meet engineering and historic preservation standards.

 

  1. Engineers, especially agents at the DOT, have used the reason “HBs are functionally obsolete and they are at the end of their useful life. Can you elaborate what they mean and do you agree/disagree with the statement?

 

I don’t hear functional obsolescence used as a particular reason to replace bridges. I see the engineers I work with at Mead & Hunt and various state DOTs take a more holistic approach to evaluating alternatives for historic bridges. Foremost, we consider project purpose and need, which is a key part of the U.S. regulatory process. In addition, these factors are important to future use: rehabilitation potential, load capacity, geometrics on bridge and approach roadway, available detour for heavier trucks, and, where applicable, other restrictive factors (e.g. boat or rail traffic beneath). Our work focuses on keeping bridges in transportation use—typically for vehicles but sometimes for pedestrians, bikes and/or horses.

 

  1. Wisconsin, where Mead & Hunt is located is on a modernization spree at the cost of many HBs. Any reasons behind that?

 

Mead & Hunt has offices across the nation, and I wouldn’t say we are on a “modernization spree” in any of the states where we operate. This is because currently money for infrastructure and transportation projects is pretty tight and many states are focused on asset management and maintenance and preservation projects. However, I’d agree that there generally isn’t much support for historic bridge preservation in Wisconsin. A notable exception would be the City of Milwaukee which we’ve helped to rehabilitate several bascule bridges, including on Cherry and State Streets and Kilbourn Avenue.

 

  1. What projects are you and your crew undertaking at the moment?

 

We’re in year five of putting in place the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s historic bridge program. An early step involved review of more than 4,500 state and locally owned bridges constructed through 1970. This groundbreaking effort proactively identified 150 historic structures, allowing the LADOTD to consider these historic resources early in project planning and development. The state has committed to preserve 33 historic bridges that we identified as the best candidates for preservation.  The capstone of the program is a Programmatic Agreement that outlines procedures for managing the state’s historic bridges, streamlines coordination under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and provides public outreach, training, and funding for historic bridges.  An award-winning publication, historic documentation, and marketing bridges for reuse provides mitigation for historic bridges that were found inadequate to serve in long-term transportation use. We’re in the final stages of preparing individual management plans to guide the preservation of the 33 priority bridges.

 

We are just starting a multi-phase project in Georgia to identify historic bridges and develop management recommendations.

 

  1. What would you personally like to see done re. the remaining HBs in the U.S.?

 

I’m generally an optimist and see several positive trends for historic bridges. The current focus on maintaining aging infrastructure as states work with limited funding has owners working to extend the useful life of bridges, including those that have historic significance. Through training opportunities and better collaboration, professionals and owners are seeing more options to keep historic bridges in use.

 

I’m also a realist and recognize that you can’t save every historic bridge. I’d like to see more proactive efforts to conduct maintenance and rehabilitation activities before deterioration advances too far. More money for repairing old bridges in general—and including those that are historic—would be great. Infrastructure overall is woefully underfunded. Special funding is needed for truss and covered bridges to be repurposed on trails when they can no longer serve vehicles, since most government funding is restricted to bridges that carry vehicular traffic.

 

Pont de Vessy in Geneva. One of Robert Malliart's prized works. Photo taken in 2006
Pont de Vessy in Geneva. One of Robert Malliart’s prized works. Photo taken in 2006

 

  1. Any bridges you would like to see before you retire?

 

Retirement is quite a few years off for me but I enjoy traveling in the U.S. and abroad. I would particularly like to see the Forth Bridge in Scotland and the work of Robert Maillart in Switzerland. Once I retire, I plan to travel even more.

 

Author’s Note: HABS/HAER stands for Historic American Builders Society/ Historic American Engineering Record. Its role in documenting and preserving historic bridges and other artefacts can be found here, which includes a database on places documented by the organization. It is part of the US Library of Congress located in Washington, DC.

 

bhc jacob

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