The Bridges of Flensburg, Germany

Author’s Note: This is a throw-back to an article I wrote for the blog version of the Chronicles in 2012. The difference here is this article features a map with a guide to the location of the bridges, so that you have an opportunity to visit them. In addition some articles about Flensburg are to appear in sister column The Flensburg Files soon, as some stories coming from there are worth having a look at. 

The Bridge of Friendship at the German-Danish border at Wassersleben. Photo taken in 2011

Flensburg, Germany: the city with lots of character. There are many factors that make the city, located at the German-Danish border unique. Given its proximity to the border, the city of 90,000 has the highest number of Danish minority living there with one in four having Danish blood. One will find many Danish stores in the city center and places to the north towards the border. The city prides itself on its local brewery, the Flensburger Beer with its 12 different flavors, which celebrated its 125th birthday this year. The city is the birthplace of rum, as the likes of Pott, Johannsen, Jensen and the like made their mark here, many of which can be seen by touring the Rum-Sugar Mile. One can tour see and learn about the ships that were built in Flensburg, let alone travel the Alexandra, the lone coal-powered ship still in operation. And if one is interested in sports, there’s the handball team, SG Flensburg-Handewitt, one of the premiere powerhouses in the Bundesliga.

And lastly, if one looks even closer, one will find some historic bridges, whose history has long since been hidden from view. In the three times I’ve travelled up there for vacation, one cannot get enough of the city’s history, especially with regards to that aspect. The bridges are scattered throughout the city, spanning all kinds of ravines, and ranging from girders, arches and even a wooden truss. This tour guide takes you to seven bridges that make Flensburg unique in itself. A couple of the bridges have been mentioned in previous articles as there is potential to find substantial information on them. And for some, it required some great effort as the photographer had to battle through a bed of thorns and Rotweiler dogs to get to the bridges. So without further ado, here is the guide to the bridges in the Hölle Nord:

Schleswiger Strasse Brücke- When getting off the train at the station, this is the first bridge you will see. Spanning the railroad line connecting Flensburg with the key points to the north and south, the two-span arch bridge is the second crossing at this site, for the first bridge was built in 1854 when the rail line was first constructed. This bridge was built in 1926 and still retains its original form. One should not be mistaken by the fact that the bridge is brand new. It has shown some wear and tear especially on the inner part of the arches. But overall, the bridge is in excellent shape and is in the running for being declared a historic landmark by the city.

Peelwatt Viaduct- Spanning the railroad line connecting Flensburg and Kiel, this viaduct was built in the early 1900s and is the tallest and longest bridge in Flensburg. The bridge is about 70 meters long and 30 meters deep, carrying Kaiserstrasse. This bridge was difficult to photograph given the number of thorns that had to be dealt with, in addition with being chased by a large Rotweiler owned by a couple having an “open air concert” during my visit in 2011. Unless you’re Nathan Holth and want to deal with scratches and bruises, this stunt should not be attempted. While the bridge had seen its better days because of cracks and falling debris, the structure was recently rehabilitated in a way that a new roadway and railings were built, making it safer for cyclists to cross. Since finishing the work this year, the bridge has been serving as an important link between the campus of the University of Flensburg and the City Center.

Angelburger Brücke- Located at the junction of Angelburger Strasse and the main highway Sudenhofendamm, this bridge has a history in itself that required a lot of researching. When I visited the bridge in 2010, the first impressions that came to mind was that it was just a girder bridge with some ornamental railings resembling an X-shape. Underneath the bridge it features V-laced truss framing that is welded together with gusset plates.  But beyond the engineering facts, if one looks more closely at the abutments, one can see the remnants of a bike shop encased into the bridge’s north abutment because of the old German lettering and a wheel resembling an old-fashioned bike from the 1930s. As the nearest bike shop was up the hill at Hafenmarkt, I sent an inquiry about this bridge after writing a mystery bridge article about it. The response was an interesting one. The shop inside the bridge was indeed a bike shop owned by the Kraft family, which housed not only bikes, but also a repair shop. That remained in business through the 1960s before being replaced with a store that sold used books and comic booklets. It was owned by Emma Voss. Shortly before its abandonment in ca. 2000, a used furniture store took its place. After sustaining damage through broken windows and other forms of vandalism, the windows were bricked shut and a bilboard took their place. However, according to the Petersen Bike Shop, who provided the information, the city is looking at revitalizing the Bahndamm which would include remodelling and reusing this unique store space. Whether and when this will be realized remains to be seen. The bridge was built in 1919 as part of the Bahndamm line connecting the harbor and the train station. It is used next to never these days. But with the revitalization plan on the table, that might change as well.

Bahndamm Bridges:  Located at the junction of the Hofenden and Hafendamm, the 1919 bridges feature not only one, but two bridges built next to each other. Each one carries a rail line just west of the split with each one caressing the harbor. Once used to transport goods from ships to the main land, both lines appear to have been abandoned for a couple decades or have seen little use. The bridges themselves are plate girder with V-laced bracings at the bottom. Its future however seems uncertain as they pose a hazard to vehicular traffic. A traffic light is right after the bridge and the lanes have become a problem, even though the city council has tried to fix it most recently.

Bridge of Friendship:  This bridge is the northernmost structure, as it is located at the German-Danish border at Wassersleben, carrying a bike trail which leads to Kursa. It is also one of the most unique structures in Schleswig-Holstein for it is not only made of lumber, but the truss design is unusual- a Queenpost deck truss but designed in a manner similar to a Queenpost pony truss- the diagonal beams connect the piers with the decking without meeting at the center. Built in 1920 but reconstructed in 2003, the BoF has symbolized the connection and friendship between Germany and Denmark, which has been that way since the 1950s. Yet up until World War II, the relations between the two countries were not always the best, as they fought each other over the lands extending from Schleswig up towards Kolding- the region known as Angeln. Yet the Battle of Dybol (near Sonderburg) in 1864 decided the border in favor of German empire, with Flensburg becoming a border town. With the exception of World War II, when Hitler invaded and conquered Denmark, the border has remained the same. Between 1945 and 1995 Danish and German guards stood at the bridge, ensuring that people can cross without incident, especially as each country had its own set of laws. Yet after the Shengen Agreement, the border bridge became a free crossing and has remained so ever since. One can see the empty border patrol station still in place today when crossing into Denmark.

Bahnhofstrasse Brücke:  Located just north of Carlisle Park on the road heading to the train station, this 1919 railroad bridge features similar lattice bracing as the Angelburger Bridge but in the form of a snowflake. The bridge was part of the rail line connecting the train station with the harbor but has been unused for the most part for a couple decades.

Tarup Railroad Bridge:  While this bridge may look like a typical deck plate girder, this 1903 bridge is located in the rural village located 8 km east of Flensburg. Interesting to note that there is a restaurant located 300 meters away from the bridge with the date saying that the railroad was in service from 1903 to 2000. Yet the information seems to be mistaken, for the bridge carries a rail line between Flensburg and Kiel, with trains running on the hour. It is possible that the train station in Tarup was discontinued in 2000 forcing many to board at either Flensburg or Husby, but more research is needed to prove that.

Lautrupsbachtal Viaduct:  The last bridge on this tour is this one. Built in 2009, the bridge spans the Lautrup Creek and several other smaller streets and a bike trail in the village of Lautrup in the eastern part of Flensburg. Despite a debate about the construction of the bridge, the it has served as a blessing, carrying traffic around the eastern end of the city, reducing the congestion, which is still a recurring problem in the city center. The bridge is the longest, measuring 500 meters, and presenting a curve. The railings also serve as a noise barrier- 10 meters tall, resembling the Ecu Viaduct in Geneva, Switzerland. A video of the crossing is presented here.

There are some more bridges that are worth visiting but could not be put on this page. Yet another bridge photographer, Fritz Wissemborski also took a tour through Flensburg in 2003 and has a set of pictures you can view here. It pretty much sums up how important the bridges were to the city of Flensburg, for it contributed to the development of its infrastructure over the years. And because talks are underway to convert the former rail line to a bike trail connecting the harbor with the train station, one will have an opportunity to see these bridges reused again, as more and more people will take to the bikes and leave their cars in the garage. This way people will know more about these structures and come to appreciate them even more than they did in the past, providing another reason to visit Flensburg apart from the rum, beer, boating and handball.

Click on the highlighted bridges to gain access to the photos. Some of which were photographed by the author and can be found on his facebook page. 

Google Map: A guide to the bridges in and around Flensburg you can find here: 

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zcTmPZtqubT0.kLBfVOG_8Xr8

bhc new logo jpeg and FF new logo1

The Oldest Bridge Book

Question for the Forum:

Here is an interesting question for you readers to start off with:

What was the oldest known bridge book you have ever read? When was it written and what was the title?

Do you know about a bridge book that is the oldest ever written?

There is an explanation that warrants this question for discussion:

I’ve been quite busy with my latest bridge project I’m doing for a history professor at the University in Jena, Germany on Roman Aqueducts, focusing on the reconstruction of the ones in Italy after Theoderich the Great took power in 493 AD. Going through the sources to find enough information can be a chore, as a there are a few books about this topic, not to mention some of the inscriptions in Latin that had to be deciphered into English to determine when the aqueducts were built, let alone rebuilt upon orders of the Goth. As I was going through the work, I happened to find a book on Roman Aqueducts, located right in the library at the University!

The author of the book is Esther van Deman and the title: “The Building of Roman Aqueducts” It featured nine examples of aqueducts that were built between 20 BC and 250 AD, with four of them being rebuilt after 476 AD, when the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist with Odoacre taking power in Italy. It also featured the art of constructing them, using various materials ordered by the emperors, beginning with Augustus, and designing them using the stone or brick arches that were engineered by the Roman builders with the goal of bringing water to the region. After all, the Romans needed water for all sorts of purposes, including the public baths in many cities, irrigation, plumbing, and even drinking.

But when was this book published?  1984?  1977?   1966?

1934!!!!

The Carnegie Institute of Washington, DC published this work, which contained information and photos eighty years ago! This meant that with the exception of bridge examples presented by the bridge companies, like King, Wrought Iron Bridge, Clinton, or even the ones in Canton, Ohio or Pittsburgh, bridge books were being produced at least eighty years ago, with photos and all. But was this book the oldest ever published?

Doubtful!   My assumption was the book on the Great American Bridges by Donald Jackson was the oldest one ever written about (historic) bridges, being published in 1984- fifty years later. Yet I also discovered a couple more books written a year later about bridges in Pennsylvania and Australia. Yet if my assumptions are wrong by sixty years, then this means that there were many books- ancient ones- that had existed before that.

So let’s start with the forum by answering the questions I brought forward at the beginning: the oldest book you have written and the oldest known book that exists about bridges. Place your comments here or through the social network pages bearing the Chronicles’ name, with hopes that other stories will come to light.

As I’m on the same page regarding Roman Aqueducts……

 

Mystery Bridge Nr. 36: The Ravenna Aqueduct in Italy

The Aqueduct of Segovia in Spain. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Segovia_Aqueduct.JPG

The next mystery bridge article is in connection with a project the author is doing for a university in eastern Germany- namely one involving a rather antique bridge type known as the aqueduct.  As you can see in the picture above, aqueducts date back to ancient times, first used by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans but later expanded by the Romans during their time in power, beginning in the second century BC. Tens of thousands of kilometers of aqueducts were constructed by 195 AD, the time when the Roman Empire was at its peak in size and power, with 11 of them totaling over 300 kilometers built in the city of Rome itself.

Aqueducts themselves are viaducts that feature multiple stories of arches but whose top row of arches transport water to the cities on land. In general, water extracted from a larger body of water- in the case of the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean Sea, with some smaller aqueducts being used to connect the major ones in Germany, France and England- and is transported through a series of canals and arch viaducts, making a gradual decline going inland. Most of these aqueducts were built using bricks and/or stone, while the pipes and troughs used to transport water were first built using lead, yet ceramics and clay were later used due to concerns of lead poisoning and water-borne diseases that affected the Roman population.  Many of these aqueducts were destroyed by Germanic tribes, Vandals and Franconians when the Empire crumbled bit by bit after it was split into two in 395 AD. Others were left in disarray. Yet there were some aqueducts that were restored by the Visogoths and Ostrogoths after the Western Roman Empire ceased to exist with the overthrow of Romulus, son of Orestes, by Odoacre in 476 AD.

The Ravenna Aqueduct was one of the surviving Roman aqueducts that was restored after 476 AD. It was first built by Emperor Trajan in the second century (before his death in 117 AD) connecting Ravenna with the port of Classe, located northeast of the city on the Adriatic Sea. Little was known about the aqueduct except it was approximately 20 kilometers long, with another branch being built later that was 70 kilometers. According to Deborah Deliyannis in her book, Ravenna in Late Antiquity, the aqueduct was out of service by 460, with portions destroyed during the conquest of Italy by Theoderich the Great, where he besieged Ravenna between 490 and the time he murdered Odoacre and took over the Italian kingdom in 493. It was then that he ordered all aqueducts to be restored, including this key connection between Ravenna and Classe. Reason for that was simple: he wanted to restore the water system to Ravenna to enable people to use it for drinking, irrigation and bathing.  The restoration was confirmed with the excavation of lead pipes that were part of the aqueduct in 1938. The restoration of the aqueduct was one of many architectural achievements that belonged to Theoderich during his regime of the Ostrogoth and later the Visigoth kingdoms before his death in 526.

Yet the question is what the aqueduct looked like during its existence and how it went from the port at Classe to Ravenna, for the path of the aqueduct remains disputed. We do know that Theoderich’s regime was similar to that of Alexander the Great, when he conquered Greece and the Persian kingdom in 323 BC, but allowed the civilizations to thrive. Theoderich’s tolerance over the civilizations based on religious and cultural backgrounds was legend during his time, and his initiative to rebuild Italy’s infrastructure and architectural landscape showed his willingness to allow the people to have a better life than before his conquest. The Ravenna aqueduct was one of those works of art that can reportedly be seen in Ravenna. The question is where the rest of the aqueduct was built and if some of the remnants outside Ravenna can be seen today.

If you have any historical information and findings to date, as well as photos and sketches of the Ravenna Aqueduct, regardless of what language, please use the following channels and contact the Chronicles:

Send your photos and sketches, as well as inquiries to Jason Smith at the Chronicles at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com

You can place your information about Ravenna’s aqueduct, Trajan’s architectural work or Theoderich’s restoration in the comment section of this article.

Another source where you can send the information is Dr. Udo Hartmann of the Institute of Antiquity at the University of Jena in Germany, who teaches ancient history and has been teaching about Theoderich the Great this semester (Winter Semester 2013/14) and is overseeing the project the author is doing. His e-mail address is: udo.hartmann@uni-jena.de

As soon as the pieces of the aqueduct’s history are put together and the project is completed, an update in abbreviated form will be presented in the Chronicles. Your help would be much appreciated in this matter. Many thanks for your help.

Information on Ravenna, the aqueduct, Trajan and Theoderich the Great can be found by clicking on the following links below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classe,_ancient_port_of_Ravenna#cite_note-11

Ravenna in Late Antiquity and the Restoration of the Aqueduct

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravenna

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoderic_the_Great

 

The Un-Covered Bridge in Vermont

Forward by the author:

Imagine this scenario with a historic bridge in general. You have a multi-span structure spanning a ravine for more than 150 years. In European standards it would be common as we have various covered and arch bridges that date as far back as the 1700s (and even further). In American standards, it is rare to find these relicts anywhere with the exception of the areas along the East Coast in the form of covered and arch bridges, namely because that area was occupied by the settlers first before the westward expansion started. Anyway, this 150 year old historic bridge is a covered bridge resembling something like this one below:

Historic American Engineer’s Record

Yet a major storm destroys half the structure and you are left with the task of rebuilding that half of the bridge, realizing that: 1. the structure will not look the same as before, and 2. there is a possibility that another bridge type would take its place instead of having the covered span, like this one:

Photo taken by Kaitlin O’shea

There are many examples of bridges that fall into one category or the other, with a couple more set to follow in the coming year. This includes the reconstruction of the Sutliff Bridge in Iowa, where the eastern most span, which was destroyed by flooding in 2008- will be rebuilt but usingriveted connections instead of pinned connections, like the other two spans.

But suppose, by looking at the picture above that one half of the span was not destroyed but instead was in the midst of being reconstructed, and therefore receiving the nickname, the un-covered bridge because of the arches that were supposed to support the trusses but instead is just sitting there with its future on the line….

There is an explanation to this rather unique appearance, which can only be given by the person who has been there to see the bridge. Kaitlin O’shea of Preservation in Pink, a website devoted to the preservation of historic places in her home state of Vermont and elsewhere, wrote a short article about this bridge awhile back and has taken up the offer to explain about the Un-covered Bridge as a guest columnist for the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Here is her story on this bridge, where it is located and what the plans are for restoring it for future use….

 

The Un-Covered Bridge
By Kaitlin O’Shea
The Taftsville Covered Bridge spans the Ottaquechee River in Taftsville (Woodstock), Vermont. Designed and constructed in 1836 by Solomon Emmons III, this two-span, modified multiple kingpost truss with semi-independent arch is a rare example of early craftsman tradition; it does not reflect influences from any of the bridge patent patterns available at the time. Its design is considered somewhat unorthodox for American construction, though possibly influenced by Swiss designs. HAER documentation identifies the current covered bridge as the fourth Taftsville bridge in this location.  The original bridge was built in the late 18th century in order to serve the thriving settlements on both banks of the Ottaquechee, including a power plant, gristmill, chair factory, brickyard, blacksmith, tannery and slaughterhouse. After floods washed out the first bridges, the town likely needed a stronger bridge, which led to Emmons’ design and construction.

Entrance to the bridge. Historic American Engineer’s Record

Since its construction there have been repairs and alterations, such as the arches, which were added in the early 20th century; exact reasons remain unknown. Substantial rehabilitation occurred in the early 1950s.  A multi-million dollar restoration project for the Taftsville Covered Bridge was programmed into the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s project schedule and on track to begin in 2012. However, the August 28, 2011 flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene that hammered much of the State of Vermont changed project plans.
Windsor County, where Taftsville is located, was one of the five hardest hit counties in Vermont (which has 14 counties). While the Taftsville Covered Bridge did not suffer the fate of the Bartonsville Covered Bridge, which was destroyed when it was washed off its abutments, it still saw incredible damage.
Following the flooding, the bridge was closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Inspections in the upcoming weeks revealed a failing western abutment (Route 4 side of the bridge), to the extent that it threatened the stability of the bridge. The stone abutment faced an unsecure earthen riverbank, and material had washed downstream with the floodwaters. As a result the timber arch slipped and threatened to be unable to support the bridge until restoration. In addition, the central pier was damaged during the flood.

Close-up of the damaged piers and the undermining of the arches. Photo taken by Kaitlin O’shea, used with permission

In order to stabilize the bridge before winter began (even though winter barely showed in Vermont this year), the Vermont Agency of Transportation carried out a strengthening and lightening plan. In other words: strengthen the arches with tension rods, and remove the dead load: the siding, deck, and distribution beams – essentially, everything except the arches.  The abutment that remains and the central pier are strong enough to support one full span and one light span. The benefit to this method is that the entire bridge does not have to be removed, which saves additional work and keeps the bridge in everyone’s sights. A creative stabilization plan was necessary at this location due to several obstacles including an adjacent power plant and low power lines, which would inhibit the entrance of construction equipment and vehicles.
And that is how Taftsville became the Un-Covered Bridge. A restoration plan is still on track for the Taftsville Covered Bridge, though it may be a total of two years before the bridge is open to traffic.

West abutment, arch, and the rest of the bridge. Photo taken by Kaitlin O’shea, used with permission

 

Note about the guest columnist:

Kaitlin O’Shea is a historic preservationist by education, profession and avocation. She is currently a Historic Preservation Specialist with the State of Vermont, and previously an oral history project manager in North Carolina. Kaitlin has been writing Preservation in Pink since 2007, when she realized just how much she missed the caffeinated conversations and company of her preservation colleagues. What began as a preservation newsletter evolved to the daily blog that discusses historic preservation on all fronts, aiming to present subjects as approachable and applicable to everyone, no matter what his/her background.

The author would like to thank her for the use of her photos. They were taken in September 2011 and March 2012 respectively with her iPhone, and contrary to her opinion about the photos, they came out well on this column.

 

 

From Bridges to Borders: How Carelessness is destroying our (Historic) Bridges


Taken by Bradley Widding; used with permission

It is a scene that drives everyone up the wall: a driver turns off the main highway onto a gravel road in an overweight truck carrying a trailer with oversized equipment. The total weight is 9 tons with the maximum height of 14 feet. He approaches a through truss bridge, whose vertical clearance is 13 feet and has a weight limit of 3 tons. The driver has taken his truck across the structure many times as it serves as a shortcut to his destination, plus the Pratt structure built in 1890 represents a picturesque view of the river valley. While he sees a weight restriction sign, he disregards it and goes across it, only to find that the whole structure swayed side-to-side and as he managed to get off the bridge, the whole structure fell into the river! He gets out of the truck and surveys the damage only to react with the words “……!”  (I’ll let the reader fill in the blanks).

This happened to the Fryer’s Ford Bridge in Conway County, Arkansas this past Monday, as the driver of an H20 Transfer Service truck carrying a trailer with a hose track dropped the truss bridge into the water as he was getting off. Although he claimed that he had crossed the bridge many times before, this time was definitely his last; especially because of the fact that he was later ticketed for driving an oversized vehicle on the bridge and is expected to face more legal action in the coming days. While the bridge may be rebuilt as it sustained minimal damage from the photos taken at the scene, the Wrought Iron Bridge Company structure will be reduced to recreational use only as it will never be able to serve vehicular traffic ever again. And it will be unfortunate as it was the oldest bridge of its kind still in operation in Arkansas before the accident took place.

This scene has been played out many times over again throughout the country as the infrastructure in the US is crumbling to a point where the country is on the same level as a third world country, such as Uganda, Sudan, or even Libya. The latest report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers has graded the infrastructural system in the country as a whole a D, with the bridges being graded a C. However, when it comes to awareness of historic structures and ways to preserve them, let alone inform the public about the restrictions historic bridges have- especially with regards to weight limits- the grade for that one is D- at best; ironic given the fact that the literacy rate in the US is 99%, and one can obtain information everywhere at any time. Why is this the case?

There are two arguments that play a role in the problem with historic bridges and awareness. The first is with regards to the lack of maintenance. Normally for structures, like the Fryer’s Ford Bridge or any bridge to be exact, one has to find ways of maintaining the structures as they are. This means that they must be inspected regularily, repairs must be done when and where needed, and in case the bridge may approach the end of its useful life, one must try and prolong it as long as possible, which includes rehabilitating it at a fraction of the cost of replacing it with another bridge- at least a quarter of the cost to be exact. That means for a historic bridge, the cost for rehabilitating a structure like the one in Arkansas could range from $20,000 to $120,000 pending on what needs to be done with it, which could include new flooring, strengthening the beams and other connections and painting it so that it is rust resistant. By replacing the bridge outright with a concrete span, the cost could go up to $500,000, which in the end, tax payers will be footed the bill. Should restrictions be needed, they should be posted accordingly, and fines should be imposed on drivers caught disregarding the restrictions. Unfortunately though, most of the time this happens when it is too late.

Putting historic bridges aside, there have been many bridge failures due to the lack of maintenance and the lack of information on the structures and their capabilities to handle traffic. A couple of regional examples coming to mind include the partial collapse of a bridge carrying a county highway south of Brewster, Minnesota on the Nobles and Jackson County borders on 19 October, 2010, as a milling machine was on the bridge during the construction of the county road. One half fell through leaving the other one open to one way traffic only. That bridge is scheduled to be replaced this year. The other example is the collapse of a Kingpost pony truss bridge in western Winneshiek County in Iowa in 1995, after a county maintenance vehicle crossed it. And then there is the infamous I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, a cantilever deck truss bridge that failed because of too much equipment on the structure. This disaster in particular served as a wake-up call to look at the American infrastructure and its dire state.

Transversal view of the county bridge near Brewster. Photo taken by Brian Korthals of the Worthington Daily Globe, used with permission
The Milling Machine being removed from the wreckage. Photo taken by Brian Korthals of the Worthington Daily Globe, used with permission

While wreckages involving historic bridges through accident caused by lack of maintenance may be annoying, what drives many people to the boiling point is when accidents can happen due to a combination of ignorance, carelessness, and in many cases, downright stupidity. Many times drivers with overweight or oversized vehicles ignore the weight restrictions signs and proceed to cross the bridge haphazardly, risking the damage or destruction to the structure itself, let alone to the property of the driver himself. Sometimes excuses are brought up to justify the actions, although much of them have been questioned by local authorities, let alone the preservationists. The primary excuse used for justifying the actions of crossing the bridge is that “It has been done before.” Those who read about the collapse of the Fryer’s Ford Bridge have countered that claim saying that it was no excuse, and that “….everytime the person crossed the bridge (with too much weight) was damage inflicted on the structure, weakening it significantly.” Another excuse used in justifying the crossing was that the bridge was a shortcut and that taking a detour costs money and time. This was used with the Frenchmans Bluff Bridge in Lincoln County, Missouri in 2006, when an oversize delivery truck brought down the 1886 iron Pratt through truss  structure built by the King Bridge Company.  But not all bridge mishaps have to do with overweight vehicles. Carelessness in general, resulting from reckless driving, can also produce dire consequences, as was happened with the Blood Run Creek Bridge in Livermore in Humboldt County, Iowa in 2003, as a pick-up driver lost control and slammed into the Pratt through truss bridge, taking the 1901 structure down in the process. The bridge was one of the last built by the Marshalltown Bridge and Iron Works in Iowa.

Blood Run Bridge in Livermore. Photo taken by Jason D. Smith in 1999

So what do we do with this compound problem? This is a question which everyone is asking themselves even as this column is being read. Most of the time when mishaps involving bridges take place, those who caused the accident are usually the ones getting away with a small fine and a slap on the wrist. The sad part about this aspect is the fact that it also applies to historic bridges, like the Fryer’s Ford Bridge; especially given the fact that it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And many historic bridges destroyed by carelessness caused by lack of maintenance combined with recklessness on the part of the drivers are either eligible for listing on the National Register or are listed already. But even with the bridge near Brewster, which is not considered historically significant, one has to maintain the structures to cut costs for replacing them outright and to prolong their structural lives, while at the same time, apply strict rules to protect them from damage caused by reckless driving or even vandalism. There’s no such thing as a bridge that is built to last 100 years and needs no maintenance, as was stated by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation at one time, last year. Bridges have to be maintained for the purpose of safety, cutting costs and (in the case of historic bridges) structural integrity. State of the art technology is being introduced to determine the stability of the structure and ways to make more precise repairs to them, regardless of the bridge types (truss, arch, beam, etc.) It is more of a question of investing the time, money and effort in doing that, which is possible, even in light of the current economic crisis.

There is however the upgrading of sanctions against drivers who willingly ignore restrictions on bridges and cause accidents by crossing them intentionally. It does not necessarily have to deal with very strict guidelines like the laws in Singapore, which fine people hundreds of dollars for even spitting on the sidewalk. Nor should it be as detailed as the Flensburg Point System, where persons could receive 7 points on his driving record, be forced to take driving classes and be paid thousands of dollars in fines had such an incident occurred in Germany (please refer to the sister column’s article on the Flensburg Point System).  But it should hold drivers accountable for any damage caused to the bridge, no matter how severe nor does it matter the circumstances. They can range from the driver paying for repairs to the bridge, let alone for a new one, to having the driver’s license revoked, to even taking compulsory classes on driving safety.  This is especially important for historically significant bridges, like the Fryer’s Ford Bridge, as stricter laws will serve the purpose of providing a lesson in respecting pieces of American History which are becoming rare by the year, as well as in driving safely in areas most sensitive to traffic and the changing driving habits, which have become more erratic over the last 15 years.

While the future of the Fryer’s Ford Bridge still remains in doubt after the accident, this mishap will serve as a reminder of how precious historic bridges like these really are. The questions that all of us should ask ourselves are the following: 1. Is it worth cutting funding for improving our infrastructure or should we find other sources where cuts would be needed (like defense spending, for example), 2. Is it worth spending more money on a new bridge when we could maintain and even rehabilitate the old one to prolong its life a bit more at less cost, 3. Is it worth taking the shortcut to a bridge that is unable to carry the weight of your own vehicle just to save on gas and time, or is it worth making that extra three mile detour, and finally 4. Is it worth being ignorant or should we be aware of what we have and what we can do to better things? After all, one can make do with what little is available at his disposal without having to spend extra at the cost of others….

Fryer's Road Bridge: Future in limbo after accident. Photo taken by Bradley Widding, used with permission.

The author would like to thank Bradley Widding, Kari Lucin and Brian Korthals for the usage of the photos and the contribution to this column.

Links:

Fryer’s Road Bridge:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/ar/conway/fry/

http://www.todaysthv.com/news/article/153099/2/Truck-collapses-historic-Conway-Co-bridge

Frenchmans Bluff Bridge:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/mo/lincoln/frenchmans-bluff/

Blood Run Creek Bridge:

http://www.humboldtnews.com/main.asp?Search=1&ArticleID=501&SectionID=12&SubSectionID=12&S=41

http://www.bridgehunter.com/ia/humboldt/blood-run/

Brewster Bridge:

http://www.dglobe.com/event/videos/tag/bridge%20collapse/

http://www.dglobe.com/event/article/id/42002/publisher_ID/24/

American Society of Civil Engineer’s Report Card for 2009:

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

The Flensburg Files Column on the Flensburg Point System:

http://flensburgerfiles.areavoices.com/2011/04/04/flensburg_points_system_60/