Des Moines Arch Bridges to Disappear???

Grand Avenue Bridge in Des Moines- slated for replacement in 2015. Photo taken in 2011

Grand Avenue Bridge scheduled to be replaced next year. Other arch bridges over the Des Moines River to follow?

The City of Des Moines cannot seem to keep itself out of the spotlight lately, when it comes to historic bridges and preservation.  While the city finished second in the Ammann Awards in the category of City Tour Awards for US historic bridges, and an agreement was made on a joint venture to restore the Green Bridge over the Raccoon River at Fifth Avenue SW, trouble is now looming for one of its treasured landmarks: the arch bridges. When we talk about arch bridges, it does not necessarily mean the modern structures we see at Center Street over the Des Moines River that was built in 2010 or the George Washington Carver Bridge spanning the Raccoon River at Martin Luther King Drive that was built in 2005, or even the tied arch pedestrian crossings that span I-235 and were built at the same time.

We’re talking about the concrete arch bridges that are over 100 years old and are in need of some upgrades to accommodate increasing traffic in Des Moines. The first bridge in line for an upgrade is the Grand Avenue Bridge, spanning the Des Moines River. Built in 1918, the 495-foot long bridge features six closed spandrel arch bridges, built using two different types of concrete resembling two different colors. This was one of the typical works designed by James B. Marsh  and built by Koss Construction Company, both prominent firms serving Des Moines during that time. Despite being the youngest of the four arch bridges spanning the Des Moines River in Iowa’s state capital, recent inspection reports found deterioration that was worst than anticipated. End result: instead of extensive rehabilitation, the City has recently decided to tear down the bridge in 2015 and replace it with a new bridge.

The question is with what design? Some city council members are advocating a generic bridge type, featuring either a girder or beam design, which would be the cheapest. Yet, opposition to that plan has sprung into force almost immediately, not only within the city council, but from many residents and media news outlets, some going as far as Miami! Jack Porter, former city council member and current preservation architect working for the Iowa Historical Society mentioned in a news interview that the Grand Avenue Bridge presented an obstacle when it was originally built and it later tied the city together, connecting the city center with the eastern parts of the city. He believes that the new design should replicate the one that is scheduled to be replaced. He is backed by city council member Chris Coleman, who supports the plan to have a structure that conforms to the historic district.  Yet Deputy City Engineer Pam Cooksey believes that the arch design does not meet state standards. She supports a modern structure.

While the design for the new Grand Avenue Bridge is being considered, keeping the arch design in mind, other arch bridges are being targeted for a thorough inspection to determine their needs as well. The city council recently hired local bridge company Shuck-Britson to undertake this mission together with several other bridges in the city, regardless of bridge type. This is the same company that had previously inspected the Cascade Bridge in Burlington and the Green Bridge in Des Moines, the latter of which prompted its immediate closure in March 2013 to all cyclists and pedestrians.  The bridges in visier of the inspection by SB include the Court Avenue Bridge, Walnut Street Bridge, Locust Avenue Bridge, Red Pedestrian Bridge, and the Meredith Trail Arch Bridge. A link to these bridges, profiled by the Chronicles last year can be accessed here.

This leads to the question of the future of the arch bridges, for if the other bridges are targeted for replacement, how will that affect the city and its logo, “The City of Arches?” Christine Hensley in an interview with the Miami Herald claimed that it would be a mistake not to maintain the arch bridges. Des Moines has had a record of destroying many places of historic interest over the past two decades, including the destruction of the Chicago and Great Western Railroad Bridge last year, a multiple-span through truss bridge spanning the Des Moines River that had been sitting abandoned for many years. Another Grand Avenue arch bridge spanning Walnut Creek was replaced with a generic structure a year earlier. And while the city has been transforming itself to make it attractive and pedestrian friendly on one hand, but protect it from massive floods that put portions underwater in 1993, 2008 and 2011, some of the transformation has come at the expense of the historic places that had been part of the city’s history. In some cases, the attempt to integrate modernism into a historic district ended badly with the modern structures becoming an eyesore.

Some residents are suspecting foul play as the City is looking at modernizing at any cost, selling the safety issue of the bridge and the high costs for rehabilitation as reasons for demolishing the Grand Avenue Bridge and replacing it with a modernized structure. Others see the project as the first of successive bridge projects being tied together with plans to raise the dikes and structures to allow for the Des Moines River to flow more freely, especially during flooding. Already in the works is raising the Red Bridge by four feet with portions of the dikes to be raised at the expense of the historic levies dating back to the 1920s. Yet the question remains: how often do the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers flood the city, and is this grand project worth its cost, especially if it comes at the expense of the city’s downtown arch bridges?

And while some people in the forum have claimed a bridge is a bridge and we should build something that lasts, the fight to save the arch bridges in Des Moines has already begun, with government officials and the majority of the city’s population and businesses backing ways to preserve them to conform to the surroundings of the historic business district, which includes the corridore connecting downtown and its bridges with the State Capitol. And no wonder, as there are plenty of examples of arch bridges that have been strengthened and widened, but restored to their original forms. This includes the bridges in Erfurt, Germany, six of which received the same treatment as what many are hoping should be done with the Grand Avenue Bridge (see the Chronicles’ articles here).

Still there is a year a left, and the plan for replacing the Grand Avenue Bridge is in the early stages. Yet there will be many questions to be answered as to how the new bridge will look like, if it is necessary to replace it to begin with. People from many groups, including the Friends of the Green Bridge, Lost Des Moines and the City’s Historical Society will be watching over the developments very carefully to see how this project will impact the other bridges in the city. Will the bridge be like the rest or stick out like a modern sore thumb? Will the other arch bridges follow? And lastly, will the City need a new logo should all the arch bridges disappear? Learning the lessons from the Green Bridge, the City may want to keep in mind that people are watching them to ensure that what happens with the Grand Avenue Bridge in the end will not affect the other arch  bridges they love very much in the city. The arch bridges are the third most popular places of interest according to the survey conducted by the Des Moines Register. If they are gone, so will be a key piece of the city’s legacy, something that they cannot afford.

Interesting Fact: Erfurt won the 2012 Ammann Awards for Best Kept Secret with the city’s historic arch bridges, which includes the Kramer Bridge, the largest housed arch bridge in Europe.

 

The Bridges of Des Moines Part II: The Arch Bridges

Court Avenue Bridge in Des Moines Unless noted, all photos taken by the author in August 2011

After a night photo tour of the bridges in Iowa’s state capital, the next segment will look at the arch bridges serving the city of 250,000. Like many cities in the US, these bridge types were successors to truss bridges built between 1870 and 1880 and made of either iron or steel. In one case, the predecessor was a Post through truss bridge, reported to have been the lone bridge of its kind built in the state. These bridges were built out of concrete, either made with gravel or clay. Two periods should be noted when the bridges were built: the one between 1909 and 1920, when these bridges were built using a closed spandrel design. Four of them were built using a combination of gravel and clay as materials, albeit three of them are still in service today. Then there was the period between 1918 and 1940, where the structures were built using the open spandrel design and gravel for concrete as materials. The Scott Avenue and the previously mentioned Meredith Bikeway Bridges are the youngest bridges that are still standing in Des Moines, each built in 1937 during the period of the Works Progress Administration. Most of the bridge construction were the work of a local bridge builder who became known for his patented rainbow arch bridges. James B. Marsh dominated the bridge building scenery, first while working for the King Bridge Company with its branch office in Des Moines and later as an independent entity known as the Marsh Bridge Company. While there is speculation that the Seventh Street Bridge over Raccoon River may have been built by him (judging by the arch design that is similar to the rainbow arch), he is credited for building four of the arch bridges in Des Moines, one of which was with the help of another bridge engineer, George Koss, whose business was (and still is)  located in Des Moines, as well.

All but two of these bridges are being renovated even as this article is being posted. The reason for this is to strengthen them against the floodwaters. This is all part of the long-term plan to ease flooding which had affected the city on four different occasions: 1993, 2008, 2011 and last year. How exactly will this be done remains to be seen, but already work is being carried out on the Scott Avenue Bridge at present. The plan is to rehabilitate the bridge one-by- one before 2020, while raising the dikes and the Red Bridge.  Two of the bridges are not affected, for the Grand Avenue Bridge over Walnut Creek has been replaced and the St. John’s Road Bridge is spared from the work because of its location away from the Raccoon River.

Despite the construction going on, one can see the bridges in their place while touring Des Moines, even though the best time to photograph them are either in the day time or on a cloudy evening when the city lights illuminate the skies. Here are the bridges worth seeing while in Des Moines (just click onto the names to get to the external links):

Locust Street Bridge:   The Locust Street Bridge has the reputation of being the only crossing to have been built twice by the same builder. James B. Marsh built the three-span Pratt through truss bridge in the 1880s while working for the King Bridge Company. He later replaced it with the present bridge in 1909. The bridge features a closed spandrel arch bridge with the gravel concrete arch being filled in with  brown-colored clay. The bridge is 447 feet long with six spans total. It was rehabilitated in 1967 as part of the urban renewal project and remnants can be seen on the bridge, going beyond the 60s-style street lamps. Yet it will not be long before a rehabilitation and renovation will come to this bridge, prolonging its life and making it more attractive.

Update: This bridge was replaced with a faux pa arch span in 2018

Court Avenue Bridge:
Located over the Des Moines River, this 496 foot long bridge features five spans of the closed spandrel arch bridge and is the most ornamental of the arch bridges in Des Moines. The bridge was designed by James Marsh and constructed by George Koss’s company in 1917 and serves as a key link between Des Moines’ city center and the State Capitol. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1986 as part of the construction project to redesign the street and eliminate the Capitol Hill Tunnel (the latter occurred in 1992). Today, it still serves as the important link between the two entities, with the lighting making it more attractive to photographers at night. This bridge replaced the Post through truss bridge built in the 1870s and is the only one known to have been built in Iowa thusfar.

Grand Avenue Bridges The Grand Avenue Bridges featured two closed spandrel arch bridges located within four miles of each other: the Walnut Creek Bridge, which was built in 1914 and featured two spans totalling 168 feet, and the Des Moines River crossing, built in 1918 and totalling 495 feet worth of six spans and looking identical to the Locust Street Bridge. The 1914 bridge was recently demolished and is being replaced at the time of this post, whereas the 1918 span is slated for extensive rehabilitation in the near future.

Update: The crossing over the Des Moines River was replaced with a faux pa arch span in 2017

Walnut Street Bridge: Spanning the Des Moines River, this bridge was one of four built by James Marsh and features a closed spandrel arch bridge design similar to the ones on Locust Street and Grand Avenue. The 1911 structure features five arches totalling 503 feet, yet like the Locust Street Bridge, it has seen better days since its rehabilitation in 1967 featuring modern railings and 60s-style street lamps. Yet with its next rehabilitation, it might change that state. Interesting fact is the fact that the bridge replaced a bowstring arch bridge built in 1871. Although unknown who the bridge builder was, it appeared to have been the longest bridge of its kind in the state and even surpassing the still exant Kern Bridge in Mankato in neighboring Minnesota. Evidence is needed to support this claim, though.

Scott Avenue Bridge  
The Scott Avenue Bridge is located over the Des Moines River at the junction of the Raccoon River and the Meredith Bikeway Bridge. Built in 1937, this bridge may have been part of the Works Progress Administration project, authorized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get people back into the work force. The five-span open spandrel arch bridge is 747 feet long and the thickness of the arch is similar to the Seventh Street Bridge spanning Raccoon River. But it is unknown whether Marsh, Koss or another bridge builder was responsible for building this bridge. During the visit in 2013, the bridge was closed to all traffic because of rehabilitation. But it did not stop those from making a stop at the nearby Mullet’s restaurant, which serves local specialties, including fish and the like.

Update: The bridge was renovated and reopened in 2014. It has been christened the Meredith Bridge, named after the company in Des Moines

Seventh Street Raccoon River Bridge 
The Seventh Street Bridge over Raccoon River is the second longest but the tallest of the deck arch bridges in Des Moines. Built in 1915, the bridge is 800 feet long with the height above water being over 40 feet. The bridge features a four-span open spandrel arch bridge which can be easily seen from a mile away. Yet the best photo opportunity can be found at the Fifth Street Pedestrian Bridge.

Photo taken by Daniel Barnes in 2018

University Avenue Bridge  
More information is needed for the University Avenue Bridge, located north of the I-235 Bridge. According to current data, the bridge was built in 1920, although when exactly it was built, let alone who built it was unknown. It is known that the bridge is an open spandrel arch bridge featuring seven arches, totalling 850 feet, making it the longest bridge of its type in Des Moines. Although not visible from the interstate bridge, one can see it from the bike trail going along the Des Moines River, which the bridge serves. The bridge serves as an important link between Drake University on the west end of the bridge and the Iowa State Fair, located two miles to the east.

Photo by Matt Marzan

St. John’s Road Bridge  Located over an unnamed creek north of Water Works Park, the St. John’s Road Bridge is famous for its ornamental bracings made of concrete, together with the rest of the one-span closed spandrel arch span. Built in 1900, the bridge is only 40 feet long, yet its features will make the driver pull over for a short photo opportunity.

While most of the arch bridges are still in use, the truss bridges on the other hand have disappeared in large numbers, making it very difficult to determine when they were built and who were the contractors for these metal bridges. In the third part of the series on Des Moines’ bridges, we’ll focus on the lost bridges of Des Moines but will feature the ones that were not mentioned but are still important parts of the city’s history. The bridges mentioned in the first and second part and the CGW Railroad Bridges will not be a part of this article for their histories have been mentioned already.

Mystery Bridge 21: Bahnhofsbruecke

Overview of the bridge, taken from the platform at Flensburg Railway Station. Photos taken in May 2010

While traveling through a small city, like Flensburg, Germany, it is very important to not only find the bridges that are well known by the majority of the population, but also those that are unknown by many, but have information on its history and significance to the area it serves that is to be discovered.  The Bahnhofsbruecke, located just north of Flensburg’s railway station is one of these structures that belong to the latter category.

Oblique view

The arch bridge that carries Schleswiger Strasse over the rail lines connecting the city with Denmark, Hamburg and Kiel, is one of the first structures you will see when getting off the train but before entering the underground corridor leading to the train station building.  It is unknown when the bridge was constructed, but judging by its physical appearance, combined with its wear and tear (with black marks underneath the arches and some erosion on the outside), it appeared that the bridge was constructed in the early 1920s, shortly after the construction of the train station building (that was built in 1919).  With the exception of the addition of railings and the street being widened to accommodate an increasing load of traffic, its historic integrity has remained unaltered.

Close-up of the inner part of the spandrel underneath the arch bridge.

Yet from an engineer’s point of view, the deck arch design on this bridge is deceiving. From the outside, the bridge has a closed-spandrel arch design, meaning the vertical columns supporting the arch and roadway are filled with either concrete or brick, making it the sturdiest of the deck arch designs. Yet after taking a closer look at the bridge, one can see that in all reality, it is an open-spandrel arch bridge, consisting of an arch bridge supported by just the vertical columns. The outer arch portion of the bridge is used as a facade to further support the road deck of the bridge. It is unknown whether it was added during rehabilitation of if it was originally part of the entire structure.

But independent of the engineering design, the Bahnhofsbruecke, the third longest bridge in Flensburg behind the Peelewat Viaduct (located southeast of the train station) and the viaduct along the Ostangente, lacks information on its history- namely, when it was actually built, who built it and whether any modifications were made on it in order for the bridge to be functional for traffic. And this is where your help is needed.

Any information on this bridge? You can comment on it at the end of the article, post it on the facebook page under the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles or contact the author directly at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.  Once the information is collected, the bridge will be profiled as the Chronicles will tour the bridges of the rum capital of the world, the city by the bay known as Flensburg.

You can also view the film with the author’s commentary, which can be found here.