A Tribute to Eric DeLony

Shaw Bridge at Claverack, New York. Photo courtesy of Jet Lowe of HABS/HAER

A gifted person provides society with a gift to make it better. A person with unusual talents shapes society to benefit all.

 

For Eric DeLony, a person with a passion for historic bridges not only leads efforts to save them but teaches and encourages bridge lovers and historians to love them and follow his lead. My first contact with him came in 2005 when I wrote my first documents for a Master’s class on American History at the University of Jena in Germany. For the next eight years, despite not being able to meet him in person due to time and travel expenses, I kept in contact with him and he provided some great insights to any topic pertaining to historic bridges, preservation and careers available. Eric was a walking encyclopedia and forefather of historic preservation. Graduating from Ohio State University in 1969, he had previously started working with industrial archaeology during his studies before landing his job as Director of the Historic American Builders Society/ Historic American Engineering Record, a job he held for over three decades while having collected vast arrays of experiences that led to the start in the program to document and preserve historic bridges in 1973, known as the Historic Bridge Program. He launched the Historic Bridge Symposium in 1983 as part of the annual Society of Industrial Archaeology Conference, which has been running successfully ever since. And lastly, he taught seminars on historic bridges and preservation. Thanks to his tireless efforts, many states have implemented their historic bridge preservation programs, which includes providing funding and incentive to local groups wanting to preserve historic bridges, marketing historic bridges and looking at techniques towards prolonging the life of historic bridges for traffic use. Indiana, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, New York and Vermont have been the leading examples in such policies which have saved at least half of the pre-1940 bridges that had existed prior to 1970. Cities, like Pittsburgh, Portland, Minneapolis and Chicago have a large swath of historic bridges preserved for use. In the face of progress, that effort is astounding if compared to the preservation policies of other countries, including some in Europe.

As we wind down our 2016 Ammann Awards and with that, the topic on 100 years of the National Park Service and 50 years of the National Register of Historic Places, we feel that Eric DeLony deserves to be honored for over 40 years of work in preserving historic bridges and guiding others like yours truly, Nathan Holth, Todd Wilson, Kitty Henderson, Kaitlin O’shea, Anne Miller, Jet Lowe and Christopher Marston to becoming successful preservationists, historians, teachers and bridgelovers. There is a reason for honoring him for Lifetime Achievement for his work.

But there is more to him than that. What got him interested in historic bridges and how did that play a key role in preservation policies in the US, which served as an example for other countries to follow?  Christopher Marston, who has worked for HABS-HAER since 1989, has known Eric for many years, both on the job as well as privately. He agreed to do a tribute to Eric as a guest writer for the Chronicles in response to a request for people to step forward in contributing to Eric’s legacy. His work includes a few important sections talking about Eric’s  career as a presevrationist and what he left behind for others to follow. Here is the guest column on Eric DeLony, which also includes a source section for you to find and read when you have some free time and are interested in knowing about this topic. Enjoy! 🙂

 

Eric DeLony doing preliminary field measurements on the 1870 pony truss Old Mill Road Bridge, Northampton County, PA, in 1985. The bridge was documented as part of the Pennsylvania Cast- and Wrought-Iron Bridges Recording Project in 1991. Photo courtesy of HABS HAER Collection

 

How you guys met
I started working for the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record in 1989, as an architect on a summer recording team in Homestead, PA, near Pittsburgh. My first project was to document and draw the 12,000 ton press (1893) at the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. I met Chief of HAER Eric DeLony in person the following summer, when I was working on the Duquesne Blast Furnace. The first bridge I documented for HAER was the 1839 Dunlap’s Creek Bridge in Brownsville, PA, the first cast-iron arch in the country, in 1992. After I joined the HAER office in Washington, DC, in October 1994, I worked directly under Eric as a project leader until he retired in 2003. Over my career, I’ve led HAER documentation projects of over one hundred individual historic bridges; parkway and railroad HAER projects included another hundred bridges.

Eric DeLony’s first HAER drawing of a bridge, as part of the Mohawk-Hudson Survey in 1969. This exploded isometric technique was used on several HAER projects to show how structures go together, especially cast- and wrought-iron bridges, Eric’s favorite. Whipple Cast & Wrought-Iron Bowstring Truss Bridge, HAER NY-4, Sheet 4, 1969.

What Eric did at HAER and elsewhere
Eric DeLony was a summer-hire architect on the very first field team of the Historic American Engineering Record, the Mohawk-Hudson Area Survey, in 1969. This ambitious project documented several sites in the Albany-Troy area, and Eric measured and created HAER drawings of the Troy Gasholder, the Whipple Bowstring Truss, and the Delaware & Hudson Canal, Delaware Aqueduct. After hiring Eric as its first full-time employee in 1971, HAER began recording a variety of other bridges as part of state surveys in Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida. HAER also photographed several large railroad bridges and viaducts as part of aerial surveys of the Baltimore and Ohio and Erie railroads from 1970-72. Several of these early surveys were done with teams of students working in schools of architecture, and cosponsored by the Smithsonian Institution through the leadership of Robert Vogel.
Working with longtime colleague Prof. Emory Kemp of West Virginia University, Eric started planning the HAER Historic Bridge Program in 1973, which would become the first comprehensive national program to protect historic bridges. Through Eric’s determination, HAER developed partnerships with the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and state historic preservation offices. The first goal of the program was to promote comprehensive historic bridge inventories in each state. When inventories were required by law in 1987, Eric’s initiative became a catalyst in making highway bridges the first class of historic structures to be nationally evaluated.

Freeport Bridge, one of several Wrought Iron Bridge Company structures that was preserved thanks to Eric’s efforts. Spanning the Upper Iowa River, this bowstring arch bridge, the second longest in the US, was relocated to Gunderson Park in Decorah, Iowa, where it now serves as a picnic area. Photo taken by the author in 2007

Eric recalled that when he first proposed the HAER historic bridges program, he initially received an adversarial reaction from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and state departments of transportation (DOTs). However, once DOTs realized that rehabilitation was an economical solution to maintaining bridges over replacement, and inventories revealed state’s wealth of historic bridges, some engineers were persuaded to appreciate their value. Inventories also helped states prioritize which bridges should be saved, and which older bridges could be replaced after documentation. The stipulation in the ISTEA legislation that 3% of funds go to preservation and amenities greatly helped fund the saving and rehabilitation of hundreds of historic bridges in the 1990s and 2000s.

Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter, Minnesota. One of many bridges that has been rehabilitated for further traffic use. It was one of 29 historic bridges that are of interest of MnDOT and MinnHisSoc. Photo taken in 2013

After the preliminary state bridge inventories were completed, HAER partnered with state DOTs to undertake HAER summer documentation projects, collaborating with a combination of national and local experts and student engineers, architects and historians. Negotiating with a variety of partners from FHWA, DOTs, and other historic groups to secure funding, these HAER state bridge recording projects started with Ohio in 1986. David Simmons of the Ohio Historical Society served as a member of the team that completed the Ohio historic bridge inventory, and as an advisor to the 1986 and 1992 HAER Ohio Historic Bridge Recording Projects. He recalled that the HAER team set up offices at the architecture studios at The Ohio State University, and assisted Eric in training the students in how to read a bridge. The team documented over a dozen bridges (both on system and off) with large format photographs and histories, and completed measured drawings on roughly half of the bridges. HAER’s interest in many of these bridges helped save them from being replaced. An example was the Zoarville Station Bridge, which was preserved with support from local private citizens’ groups. From 1987 to 2001, Eric worked with several other states to document their historic bridges and add to the HAER Collection including: New York, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Iowa, Texas, and Illinois.

Zoarville Station Bridge in Ohio, the only Fink through truss bridge of its kind left in the US. This bridge was photographed by Nathan Holth in 2007 as it was undergoing extensive rehabilitation for reuse as a predestrian crossing

In addition to the nation’s highway bridges, the historic roads and bridges in the National Park system were also deteriorating from neglect and overuse. HAER developed a pilot project in the National Capital Region in 1988 to survey the historic and significant transportation-related structures and designed landscapes in various units of the National Park Service. With support from FHWA and NPS, this program expanded in 1989 and continued until 2002 to document national parks across the country. A sample of some of the parks where HAER employed large summer recording teams includes: Yellowstone, Glacier, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Sequoia, Zion, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Acadia, Great Smoky, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller national parks; Skyline Drive, George Washington Memorial, Colonial, Rock Creek, Blue Ridge, Baltimore-Washington parkways; Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Gettysburg and Shiloh National Military Parks. HAER also partnered with Connecticut and New York State to record several historic parkways including: Merritt State Parkway, Taconic State Parkway, Bronx River Parkway, and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Hogback Covered Bridge, one of thousands of covered bridges that have been preserved for use as a pedestrian crossing after a bridge was constructed alongside it. It is one of six bridges that are part of the Bridges of Madison County tour, soon to be expanded to include a couple additional metal truss bridges relocated recently. Photo taken in 2007

Eric DeLony was also vital in getting HAER involved with a third major initiative involving historic bridges and FHWA. Realizing that covered bridges were a beloved but endangered resource, Vermont Senator James Jeffords proposed legislation to identify and rehabilitate them. The National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation (NHCBP) Program was established by FHWA in 1998 through the TEA-21 transportation bill. Through Eric’s determination and foresight, HAER received research and education funding beginning in 2002 to survey and document the nation’s most significant covered bridges, as well as other educational initiatives including engineering reports, a traveling exhibition, national conferences, a national database, and nominating national historic landmarks. With the benefit of continued FHWA support, HAER National Covered Bridges Recording Project Leader Christopher Marston has continued Eric DeLony’s vision and is in the process of finalizing several research projects. This includes the publication, Covered Bridges and the Birth of American Engineering, co-edited with Justine Christianson, and dedicated to Eric DeLony. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Historic Covered Bridges will be published later in 2017.
How he brought the historic bridges to the attention of the public esp. in terms of preservation and designating them on the National Register
Eric DeLony was involved in several organizations related to bridge preservation. Eric was an active member of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) from its early years, and developed the SIA Historic Bridge Symposium beginning in the early 1980s. For these events, Eric would encourage his network of experts to share their research and experience with bridge preservation initiatives. He would typically introduce the symposium with his annual “State of the Bridge” address. These were more or less annual events from 1988 in Wheeling to 2003 in Montreal, the last year Eric attended as Chief of HAER. Eric returned in 2010-11 in Colorado Springs and Seattle with the co-sponsorship of Kitty Henderson and the Historic Bridge Foundation. HBF has continued the tradition biannually, and the 25th SIA Historic Bridge Symposium was held last year in Kansas City, MO.
He was also a committee member and friend of the Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Historic Preservation and Archaeology in Transportation (ADC50) which included several professionals from state departments of transportation, SHPOs, and consultants involved in preservation issues on federally funded transportation projects. Research and best practices on preserving and maintaining historic bridges was always a major focus of the committee. As a subcontractor to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eric co-authored with Robert Jackson, “A Context for Common Historic Bridge Types” for National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCPRP Project 25-25, Task 15) in 2005.
Not only was Eric interested in documenting historic bridges. He was also determined to see that as many structures as possible were saved and preserved. He followed through with DOTs and colleges to see that creative means could assure a bridge’s continued use. Some of these projects that Eric championed and encouraged included: the 1869 wrought-iron Henszey’s Bridge in Summerdale, PA; 1828 Blaine S-Bridge in Blaine, Ohio; the Aldrich Change Bridge in Macedon, NY, an 1858 Whipple Truss over the Erie Canal, among others.
Concurrent with the NPS Roads and Bridges projects, there was also a groundswell of interest in preserving historic roads, and related landscapes and structures. This initiative was championed by Paul Daniel Marriott, then at NTHP, and grew into the Preserving the Historic Road conferences, a biennial event that officially started in Los Angeles in 1998, with HAER as an original cosponsor. According to Marriott, “Eric appreciated that roads and bridges were intertwined. He was one of the first people to acknowledge that historic research and advocacy for historic roads. Eric DeLony was instrumental in establishing the historic roads movement.”
His involvement with HBs outside the US
As a Fulbright Scholar, Eric studied at Ironbridge with Neil Cossons in 1971-72. Eric always hired International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) foreign exchange scholars for his summer field teams beginning in 1984, which continued for approx. 25 years.
Eric was instrumental in getting HAER to collaborate with industrial archeologists and preservationists in Europe and other countries. He represented the United States at several meetings of the International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). Another issue that Eric was involved with has finally shown dividends: after several decades, the U.S. delegation has finally agreed to nominate the Brooklyn Bridge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Eric DeLony (left) and Dario Gasparini at the Guilford Pratt truss in Howard County, Maryland by Christopher Marston in 2013

What legacy he left behind
After Eric retired and moved to Santa Fe, NM in 2003, he continued to stay involved in historic bridge preservation. He ran a private consulting business for several years, and kept up an email list of his bridge contacts, which he called “the Pontists”. That list has evolved into the Pontists LinkedIn discussion group. He also published several articles on several historic bridge topics between 2000-2008.
In 2013, Eric bequeathed several of his rare books and technical reports to establish the “Eric N. DeLony Engineering and Bridge Collection” at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, MO.
Eric DeLony was truly a pioneer in the world of historic bridge documentation, preservation, and advocacy. The 2,000+ bridges in the HAER Collection, and hundreds of examples of preserved historic bridges across the country are all a testimony to Eric’s determination and enthusiasm for saving historic bridges.

 

Sources:
“Biographies of the Experts: Eric DeLony.” Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO website, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20080905093246/http://environment.transportation.org/center/tech_experts/bios/26677.aspx
Eric DeLony, Landmark American Bridges. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers, 1993.
Eric DeLony, “HAER and the Recording of Technological Heritage: Reflections on 30 Years’ Work,” IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology Volume 25, Number 1 (1999): 5-28.
“Eric N. DeLony Engineering and Bridge Collection.” Linda Hall Library website. http://libguides.lindahall.org/c.php?g=218603&p=1444349
Duncan Hay, “Eric DeLony: 2000 General Tools Award Recipient.” Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter Volume 29, No. 2 (Summer 2000): 5-7. http://www.siahq.org/awards/generaltools/general%20tools%20award%20citations/2000_General_Tools_Award_-_Eric_Delony.pdf

 

 

Christopher Marston’s career at HABS-HAER and the benefits and setbacks towards preserving historic bridges can be seen through an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Click here for details. To him we have our thanks for his help. 🙂

 

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: A Review of the 2008 Proposal

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadeville, Pennsylvania. Photo taken in August 2010. Bridge still standing despite being closed to traffic since 2008.

 

The votes have been counted. The decision has been made. We have our man for the job as President of the United States for the next four years- Barack Obama. While it is appropriate to congratulate him on his victory, which will keep him in office until January 2017, we do know (and perhaps he knows, too) that there is work to be done. A lot has been accomplished in the first four years in office, yet there is a long list of tasks that need to be completed. Among them has to do with historic bridge preservation.

When the president took office in January 2009, he was faced with numerous issues that came about. One was with high unemployment, the other with the problem with the infrastructure; especially in light of the I-35W Bridge disaster on 1 August, 2007. The Transportation Authorization Bill, passed in 2009 was supposed to provide funding to fix the ailing system, which includes building new roads and bridges and providing new jobs for those affected by the economic meltdown that occurred in the Fall 2008. But the question is: what about historic bridges and their role in the Act? A proposal on how to include funding for historic bridge preservation as part of the Act was presented by James Garvin, a historian at the New Hampshire Historical Society in December 2008, with the goal of securing more funding to encourage preservation and reuse of historic bridges, also with a purpose of generating jobs but in sections that deal with restoring bridges, such as welding, etc.

I asked Mr. Garvin if the proposal could be presented to light in this article so that we can review it and find out how far we have come with historic bridge preservation in the last four years and find out if there is a way to bring this matter up to the attention of the president in a different form. As the green light has been given, here is the 2008 version of the proposal.  If there is a way to convince the president that preserving America’s heritage is just as important as improving the infrastructure, let alone producing new jobs for the economy, what proposals would you bring to his desk at the Oval Office?  Read this and I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

Note: As you probably remembered, I conducted an interview with Mr. Garvin about the historic bridge preservation policies and its connection with the Presidential Elections. You can find the transcript here.  My opinion about this topic will come in the next article, however, some food for thought about the election results can be found in an article produced by the sister column The Flensburg Files, which you can click here.

The December 2008 Proposal to Barack Obama from James Garvin:

Summary:   Historic bridges are tangible and inspiring elements of American history.  Preservation of such bridges has been declared a national purpose by Congressional enactment of laws extending back through more than forty years.  Despite the will of Congress, the nation has lost at least 50% of these bridges in the past twenty years.  Few artifacts of American history have been erased so swiftly from our landscape.  The magnitude of this loss is becoming apparent to the American people, and a consensus favoring bridge preservation is developing.  Many of the tools needed to accomplish this preservation must be supplied by Congress, but the Executive Branch has an unparalleled opportunity, in fulfillment of its stated goal to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, to encourage these bridge preservation efforts and to inspire other initiatives to preserve the man-made elements of the American environment.  The preservation of our remaining historic bridges will realize a long deferred intent of Congress while providing a stimulus to the American economy, conserving materials and energy, and preserving the legacy of engineering and aesthetics embodied in these bridges.  Because bridge preservation has been so long deferred, countless projects are poised to begin as soon as funding is available.

Narrative:  Much of the history of the United States is written in our landscape.  Among the most evocative embodiments of that history are our historic bridges.  Bridges represent human thought given physical expression.  Whether rusting as ruins or carrying us safely over the greatest of obstacles, these structures stand among the proud inheritances of a society that became great not through wars and conquests, but by harnessing the power of water and steam and by conquering distance though railroads and highways.  The surviving historic bridges of the United States are a precious but endangered resource in our history of civil engineering, iron and steel manufacturing, transportation, and economics.  Many were among the first bridges to embody the full scope of the science of structural analysis as it was developed by American engineers after the mid-1800s.  They revolutionized transportation at a time when the nation’s roads were a national disgrace.  They transformed the American economy by providing safe passage over dangerous hazards and difficult terrain.

Congress first recognized the significance of America’s historic bridges in 1966 through passage of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Department of Transportation Act.  The latter allows the federal Secretary of Transportation to approve a transportation project that requires the “use” of a historic resource only if (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to such “use,” and (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the historic resource resulting from such “use” (49  U.S.C. 303 §771.135 Section 4(f)).2  The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 similarly requires that every federally-funded or -permitted project avoid doing harm to National Register-eligible resources whenever possible.  If harm cannot be avoided, it must be minimized and/or mitigated.  The public must be invited to participate in the process of planning for preservation.

The directive in the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 to the Federal Highway Administration to work toward bridge preservation was strengthened in 1987 with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has likewise developed a policy on the rehabilitation of historic bridges for continued vehicular use when possible, noting that

historic bridges are important links in our past, serve as safe and vital transportation routes in the present, and can represent significant resources for the future. . . . Bridges are the single most visible icon of the civil engineer’s art.  By demonstrating interest in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic bridges, the civil engineering profession acknowledges concern with these resources and an awareness of the historic built environment.

Despite the intent of Congress, our legacy of bridges, and the intelligence and enterprise they embody, is at risk.  That risk can be measured with a degree of accuracy because most states began to inventory their National Register-eligible bridges during the 1980s under directives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Using the baseline documentation provided by these state bridge surveys, a workshop on historic bridges, held in Washington, D. C., in December 2003, came to a dire conclusion:

Since 1991, federal legislation has inspired an important transformation within the transportation community, broadening its mission from the traditional task of providing a safe and efficient highway system to acknowledging that these activities play a critical role in preserving our nation’s natural and historical heritage. Despite this cultural shift, recent statistics suggest that half, if not more, of our Nation’s historic bridges have been lost in the last twenty years—two decades in which transportation and preservation consciousness was at a high level. This is an alarming and sobering statistic.

The will of Congress has been thwarted by a general inadequacy in the level of maintenance of historic bridges and by a pervasive preference among transportation officials for replacement rather than preservation.  State and regional highway agencies, intent on building anew instead of preserving, often perform insufficient maintenance to ensure the preservation of historic bridges.  When the resulting deterioration reaches a critical stage, agencies commonly ignore the Congressional mandate to engage in all possible planning to avoid harm to historic bridges.  Moving quickly, often with minimal public participation, to a decision that there is no “prudent” alternative to the removal of a bridge, these agencies frequently condemn historic bridges to oblivion.  Despite the laws and studies cited above, this pattern of behavior has been recognized among transportation agencies nationwide.  In some states, two-thirds of metal truss bridges have been lost since 1984.

Perceiving the gap between our theoretical commitment to bridge preservation and the catastrophic losses in the field, the Standing Committee on the Environment of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) commissioned the development of general guidelines for bridge rehabilitation and replacement, hoping that such protocols might be adopted across the nation. The resulting report, Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (March 2007), points out that

there is no . . .  protocol that ensures a nationally consistent approach to determining when rehabilitation is the appropriate decision or when replacement is justified. State and local transportation agencies have developed a wide variety of approaches for managing historic bridges . . . but few of the processes are founded on written protocols or guidelines that ensure balanced decision-making that spells out to all stakeholders when rehabilitation is the prudent alternative.

Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement is a recent offering that so far is unsupported by any mandate or initiative from AASHTO.  As yet, it has had little impact on individual states and certainly has not yet had the anticipated effect of encouraging bridge preservation or standardizing the treatment and preservation of historic bridges across the nation.

Yet there is a national consciousness of the enormity of our loss of so significant a part of the American legacy.  Several statewide preservation organizations have declared historic bridges to be among their “most endangered” historic properties.  Individual bridges, and historic bridges in general, have been nominated to the “Eleven Most Endangered” listing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The present moment offers an opportunity for action.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently offered its “Vision for the Obama Administration.” Included under Section 8, “Transportation,” are four recommendations affecting historic bridges.  They are:

Promote the reuse rather than the demolition of historic bridges by removing current obstacles to their repair or relocation

Include additional [enhanced] historic preservation-based language in the new 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill to encourage the adaptive reuse of the existing transportation infrastructure

Ensure that Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] are not weakened in the 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill

Continue to fund Transportation Enhancement [TE] grants, which have been instrumental in aiding the preservation of historic bridges

Preservation of historic bridges is in keeping with longstanding public policy.  It is ecologically beneficial, inasmuch as it reuses existing materials and greatly reduces the “carbon footprint” of a project in comparison with the demolition of existing structures and building anew.  It is economically beneficial, inasmuch as rehabilitation, while usually less costly than new construction, is labor intensive and thus generates the need for many skilled jobs.

Because existing incentives for bridge preservation have proven insufficient to stanch the loss of half of these structures over the past few decades, an earnest attempt to fulfill the long-expressed will of Congress will require more resources.  In fulfillment of the will of Congress, the United States must develop a national strategy for and commitment to the preservation of historic bridges.  The upcoming reauthorization of the federal Transportation Authorization Bill in 2009 offers an opportunity to reshape bridge preservation practices of the United States.  Among the steps that have been suggested to accomplish this goal, augmenting the vision of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, are:

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop statewide bridge preservation programs

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop a national context for historic bridges

AASHTO backing for preservation and better maintenance for all bridges, with further studies like Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (2007)

Congressional appropriation for the preservation of historic metal truss bridges, comparable to the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, including funding for study, planning, development of a national database of National Register-eligible bridges, and identification of national “best practices” for bridge preservation

Enhancement of the provisions of Section 4(f) to allow 200% of the estimated cost of demolition (rather than 100%, as at present) to be applied toward the preservation of historic bridges that are bypassed, and to encourage the use of those bridges for alternate transportation uses such as hiking, bicycling, and off-highway recreational vehicles

Provision of dedicated Transportation Enhancement [TE] funding specifically for historic bridge preservation.

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: An Interview with James Garvin

Meadow Bridge in Shelburne. A bridge where two of its spans were moved onto shore. Its future is in doubt. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey

This article is the second part of the series on the dire state of New Hampshire’s historic bridges and its connection with historic bridge preservation policies and the upcoming Presidential election in November. While the first part focused on the dire state of historic bridge preservation policies based on the interview with Rep. Steve Lindsey (you can click here for more details), this part focuses on the problem with historic bridge preservation on an even wider scale, based on an interview with historian James Garvin, who has worked with historic bridge preservation in the state for over 25 years. While the answers to some of the questions are lengthy, they do present some light on some of the policies that exist and for the most part, should be improved. Mr. Garvin presented a proposal to President Obama in 2008 to integrate historic preservation into the grand scheme to faster economic growth despite the recession the country was in as a result of the Great Economic Meltdown. Was this issue addressed by President Obama? Or did he brush it past and allowed for challenger Mitt Romney, who resides in neighboring Massachusetts, to bring this issue to the public’s attention. We’ll find out as Mr. Garvin tackles the issues of policies and the shortcomings that still exist both in his state as well as the rest of the country. Here is the interview in full length:

How long have you been working with the topic of historic bridges and preservation? What aspects did your work focus on?

I began to work on the preservation of historic bridges some twenty years ago, shortly after joining the staff of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources (the State Historic Preservation Office).  My employment as state architectural historian entailed regular meetings with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) on many bridge and highway projects, with particular emphasis on projects involving historic bridges.  While New Hampshire has a strong commitment to the preservation of wooden covered bridges, the commitment toward preservation of metal truss and concrete bridges was almost nonexistent when I started to work for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The weak impetus toward preservation of these more modern bridge types was strengthened in 1987, the year I began to work for the SHPO, with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a national historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).  The passage of STURAA required (and funded) a statewide survey of historic bridges in New Hampshire, providing the state with the first inventory of bridges that should be given special consideration for preservation.  Despite the existence of that inventory, New Hampshire still has not made an earnest commitment to the preservation of historic bridges other than covered bridges, and about 50% of the metal truss bridges that were extant in 1987 have since been lost.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (one being best), how would you rate historic bridge preservation in New Hampshire in comparison  to the state’s infrastructure as a whole?

I would rate New Hampshire’s efforts at preservation of historic bridges at 8 on a scale of 10 (one being best).  As one example, New Hampshire has lost about half of its metal truss bridges during the past 25 years.  As mitigation for demolishing historic bridges, NHDOT several years ago made a theoretical commitment to drafting a bridge preservation plan and creating areas for the temporary storage of replaced metal bridges for re-use elsewhere, but there is little if any indication of actual progress on these fronts, at least in a way that guarantees the preservation of key bridges.

A few New Hampshire bridges have been selected for preservation as mitigation for the removal of others of their kind, but NHDOT has several times reneged on its commitment to preserve even these few.  One such bridge, the open-spandrel concrete arch Vilas Bridge (1930) over the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont, was guaranteed perpetual preservation when a similar bridge was demolished, yet Vilas Bridge is now closed to traffic with a severely deteriorating deck, and NHDOT has not included its rehabilitation in the state’s next ten-year highway work plan.  As a result, the Hampshire Preservation Alliance, a statewide non-profit preservation advocacy organization, designated Vilas Bridge as one of New Hampshire’s most endangered historic structures in October 2012.

Another theoretically preserved bridge, a double-intersection Warren pony truss of 1925 in Dover, was replaced but safely set aside on new piers for perpetual preservation in 1986.  It was not maintained or interpreted as a historic engineering structure, but just placed next to the new bridge.  Because of its ensuing cosmetic deterioration and pressures from neighbors, the bridge has reportedly been removed from preserved status and offered for sale.  It will be demolished if no buyer appears.

One bridge of national significance, the state-owned 1897 pin-connected multi-span Pratt truss Meadow Bridge in Shelburne, N. H., won a Save America’s Treasures grant in 2005–only the second SAT grant ever made for a historic bridge.  Despite this, Meadow Bridge faces potential demolition.  This threat derives from a NHDOT policy that, if rehabilitated, the bridge must become the property and responsibility of the Town of Shelburne, a community of fewer than 400 people.  Because of this impasse, the Save America’s Treasures grant has lapsed and been forfeited.  The bridge is deteriorating with no action plan for its rehabilitation and interpretation.

This poor record of preservation caused the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance to declare all surviving metal truss bridges, as a group, to be among the state’s most endangered historical resources in 2008.   Despite this designation, such bridges continue to be demolished.  Few if any have been permanently preserved since 2008.

Rumor has it that the number of HBs in the state are dropping rapidly because of policies that encourage replacement over rehabilitation.  Do you agree with this and what are your reason for your argument?

When New Hampshire carried out a federally mandated bridge inventory under STURAA in the 1980s, the state had 92 metal truss bridges, 79 of them in vehicular use. Today, New Hampshire has 63 metal truss highway bridges, a number of them bypassed, abandoned, or in ruinous condition.  The number of such bridges still in service has dwindled to 39—a loss of nearly 50% in two decades.  Some of the 92 bridges of twenty years ago have been bypassed rather than demolished, but their preservation is not guaranteed.  Most of those 92 bridges that are no longer in service have been destroyed.

Federal laws encourage the preservation and continued use of historic bridges, but these laws have proven to be only marginally effective as a preservation tool. The loss of historic bridges is a national phenomenon as well as a New Hampshire crisis.  Despite the pervasive recognition of the significance of these structures, a workshop on historic bridges held in Washington, D. C., in December 2003, came to a dire conclusion:

. . . recent statistics suggest that half, if not more, of our Nation’s historic bridges have been lost in the last twenty years—two decades in which transportation and preservation consciousness was at a high level. This is an alarming and sobering statistic. (Author’s note: this comment was stated by Eric DeLony, historian emeritus of the Historic American Builders Society and the father of historic bridge preservation.)

This “alarming and sobering” nation-wide loss of fifty percent of historic bridges over twenty years is mirrored almost exactly by New Hampshire’s statistics.

Many statements by Congress and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) assert that historic bridges are significant elements of our national heritage and should be preserved.  Yet there is a widespread perception among bridge preservationists that highway engineers, who often lack historical perspective and sympathy for the work of their predecessors, have discovered an effective antidote to the expressed will of Congress.  By  delaying maintenance on such bridges long enough, these structure can often be found, after a decade or so of neglect, to be “beyond rehabilitation,” with “no alternative” but replacement.

Such a scenario unfolded with Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth, N. H. (1923), a vertical lift bridge designed by the eminent engineer J. A. L. Waddell as  the first major bridge of its kind in the eastern United States.  At its dedication, Memorial Bridge had the longest lift span in the country (297 feet), making it the direct prototype for later vertical lift bridges with clear spans of over 300 feet.  Plans for the rehabilitation of this bridge were approved by the New Hampshire and Maine DOTs, the two states’ SHPOs, and the Federal  Highway Administration in 2006.  When rehabilitation bids came in higher than predicted by the DOTs, the bridge was patched and kept in service for a few more years.  Because of its vulnerability, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared Memorial Bridge to be one of the “Eleven Most Endangered” historic properties in the United States in 2009.

Memorial Bridge, a structure of national significance, was ultimately found to be “beyond rehabilitation” and demolished in 2012.  A replacement is now being designed.

Chesterfield- Battlebro Bridge over the Connecticut River. The 1937 steel through arch bridge (right) was replaced by the 2003 version (left) but was left in place. It is one of many success stories of bridges along the border with Vermont. Photo taken by Craig Hanchey

 
How about on the federal level: are you satisfied with the policies pertaining to bridges and historic bridge preservation?  What improvements do you think should be made here?

Commitments to bridge preservation at the federal level are theoretically strong, yet have proven to be ineffectual.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 allows the federal Secretary of Transportation to approve a transportation project that requires the “use” of a historic resource only if (1) there if no feasible and prudent alternative to such “use,” and (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the historic resource resulting from such “use” (49  U.S.C. 303 §771.135 Section 4(f)).2

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 similarly requires that every federally-funded or -permitted project must avoid doing harm to National Register-eligible resources whenever possible.  If harm cannot be avoided, it must be minimized and/or mitigated.  The public must be invited to participate in the process of planning for preservation.

The directive in the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 to the Federal Highway Administration to work toward bridge preservation was strengthened in 1987 with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has likewise developed a policy on the rehabilitation of historic bridges for continued vehicular use when possible, noting that

historic bridges are important links in our past, serve as safe and vital transportation routes in the present, and can represent significant resources for the future. . . . Bridges are the single most visible icon of the civil engineer’s art. By demonstrating interest in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic bridges, the civil engineering profession acknowledges concern with these resources and an awareness of the historic built environment.3

Perceiving the gap between these theoretical commitments and the catastrophic losses in the field, the Standing Committee on the Environment of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) entered into an agreement with the National Cooperative Highway Research Program of the Transportation Research Board to produce general guidelines for bridge rehabilitation and replacement, hoping that such protocols might be adopted across the nation. The resulting report, Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (March 2007), states that:

while the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (amended) and Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act of 1966 specify nationally applicable processes for considering preservation or replacement of historic bridges (defined as those that are listed in or have been determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places), there is no corresponding protocol that ensures a nationally consistent approach to determining when rehabilitation is the appropriate decision or when replacement is justified. State and local transportation agencies have developed a wide variety of approaches for managing historic bridges . . . but few of the processes are founded on written protocols or guidelines that ensure balanced decision making that spells out to all stakeholders when rehabilitation is the prudent alternative. (Source: Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement, published by Patrick Harshberger, et. al. in 2007)

Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement is a relatively recent offering that so far is unsupported by any mandate or initiative from AASHTO. As yet, it seems to have had little impact on individual states and certainly has not yet had the anticipated effect of standardizing the treatment and preservation of historic bridges across the nation.

Instead, state and regional highway agencies, intent on building anew instead of preserving, often fail to perform adequate maintenance to ensure the preservation of historic bridges.  When the resulting deterioration reaches a critical stage, agencies commonly ignore the Congressional mandate to engage in all possible planning to avoid harm to historic bridges.  Moving quickly, often with minimal public participation, to a decision that there is no “prudent” alternative to the removal of a bridge, these agencies consistently condemn historic bridges to oblivion.

Despite the laws and studies cited above, this pattern of behavior has been recognized among transportation agencies nationwide.  In some states, two-thirds of metal truss bridges have been lost since 1984. (These comments were made by DeLony and Terry Klein in a literary piece, Historic Bridges: A Heritage at Risk, published in 2004)

All this regulation is threatened by lack of funding for continued maintenance of such bridges.  Lack of funding for preservation leads to a culture of total replacement or removal, for which funding usually has been available.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation offered its “Vision for the Obama Administration” in 2008.  Because of the weaknesses of federal policy in guaranteeing effective bridge preservation, National Trust included four recommendations affecting historic bridges:

Promote the reuse rather than the demolition of historic bridges by removing current obstacles to their repair or relocation;

Include additional [enhanced] historic preservation-based language in the new 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill to encourage the adaptive reuse of the existing transportation infrastructure;

Ensure that Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] are not weakened in the 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill;

Continue to fund Transportation Enhancement [TE] grants, which have been instrumental in aiding the preservation of historic bridges.

In a similar vein, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources drafted a position paper to be conveyed to the Obama transition team in 2008.  This paper attempted to promote bridge preservation as an aspect of stimulus for a deeply damaged economy.  A stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), was ultimately enacted, but it contained no special provisions for historic preservation of any kind.

The position paper of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources outlined the following recommendations for improving or strengthening federal bridge preservation initiatives:

A Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) mandate, with funding, to develop statewide bridge preservation programs;

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop a national context for historic bridges;

AASHTO backing for preservation and better maintenance for all bridges, with further studies like Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (2007);

Congressional appropriation for the preservation of historic metal truss bridges, comparable to the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, including funding for study, planning, development of a national database of National Register-eligible bridges, and identification of national “best practices” for bridge preservation;

Enhancement of the provisions of Section 4(f) to allow 200% of the estimated cost of demolition (rather than 100%, as at present) to be applied toward the preservation of historic bridges that are bypassed, and to encourage the use of those bridges for alternate transportation uses such as hiking, bicycling, and off-highway recreational vehicles;

Provision of dedicated Transportation Enhancement [TE] funding specifically for historic bridge preservation.

Do you think President Obama has done a good job addressing the issue of infrastructure and the deficiencies involved?  If not, do you think Romney will do better if elected President?

As noted above, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources drafted a position paper to be conveyed to the Obama transition team in 2008.  Whether or not this paper was ever given careful study by that team or the Obama administration, none of its recommendations appear to have been implemented during the past four years, or even to have risen to the level of a national discussion.

Yet it must be said that the Transportation Authorization Bill, wherein most of these recommendations would be implemented, is the province of Congress, not the President.  The subject of bridge preservation is apparently regarded as of little importance by Congress; I know of no preservation leaders who presently serve in the House or Senate.  Given the apparent blindness of Congress to this issue, I do not see that progress in bridge preservation lies within the purview of a President, whether Obama or Romney.  Bridge preservation at the federal level is an issue to be debated in Congress.  A President could influence this issue through impassioned advocacy, but I cannot envision either Obama or Romney making such advocacy a priority in an economic climate in which any preservation effort is likely to be seen as elitist and branded as wasteful of funds that could be “better spent” on other national priorities.

Who do you think will win the election and why?

Political forecasting is outside of my fields of training or experience, but I do not expect the next president to make the preservation of historic bridges a high priority.  I have not heard either Obama or Romney mention historic preservation as an interest of theirs.

The author would like to thank Sheldon Perkins and Craig Hanchey for the use of their photos in the two-part series. These bridges represent clear examples of what improvements that need to be done in New Hampshire.

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: Interview with Nathan Holth

Parshallburg Bridge in Chesaning, Michigan: It was one of only five Thacher through truss bridges remaining in the United States before flooding and ice jams destroyed the newly restored structure in 2008.

Author’s Notes: This is the first of many interviews that will be posted on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, as the column will look at the successes of President Obama with transportation policies and with it, historic bridge preservation, what challenger Mitt Romney will bring to the country if elected President, and how the Presidential elections will impact the future of America’s infrastructure and bridge preservation and maintenance in general, which despite improvements since the Minneapolis Bridge disaster on 1 August, 2007 (see part I and part II for more details), there are still some critical flaws that need to be addressed, even after the November 6 elections take place.

The first interview is with Nathan Holth, webmaster of HistoricBridges.org, a website focusing on historic bridges, preservation and some interesting facts that he has gathered since the website was launched in 2005. Most of the coverage is in the eastern half of the US and large parts of Canada. In addition to that, he has been actively involved in the Section 106 and Section 4f Process of the 1966 Historic Preservation Laws and has worked with many parties in ensuring that historic bridges targeted for replacement are preserved, regardless of whether they are in place or in a different location.  Here are some questions I had for him, which he took some time to answer. Note that all pictures in this article are courtesy of HistoricBridges.org and the author would like to thank him for the usage.

Interview:

1. How big of a role have you played in historic bridge preservation since Obama was elected in 2008?
In May, 2011 myself and Luke Gordon worked to remove five abandoned pin-connected truss bridges in danger of collapse in Monroe County, Michigan and place them into storage for future restoration and reuse in new locations. In 2009, myself and Vern Mesler worked to provide the city of Mt. Pleasant, MI with information about the historic significance of a pin-connected pony truss (which turned out to be an 19th Century truss built by Wrought Iron Bridge Company) and the feasibility of its restoration. These efforts helped the city decide to rehabilitate the bridge for pedestrian use rather than replace it with a modern bridge. I have also participated as a consulting party in a number of bridge projects that triggered Section 106.

One of many pony truss bridges in Monroe County, Michigan

2. How would you rate the transportation policies in the US in comparison with the policies regarding preserving historic bridges?

Current United States policy toward all bridges (not just historic bridges) encourages deferring maintainance and repair of bridges while encouraging demolition and replacement projects even though these practices cost taxpayers more money in the long run. This is due to limited federal and state aid to help local agencies with costs of basic bridge maintainance and repair (these costs come exclusively out of local bridge agency’s pockets) while at the same time if a bridge has a sufficiency rating of below 50% (a rating that takes into account many aspects of a bridge including structural condition) the agency is elgible for and frequently awarded a huge grant from the federal and/or state government. As such, bridge agencies tend to be rewarded for allowing their bridges to deteriorate, since the grant money is more widely available for demolition and replacement of under 50% sufficiency bridges. From their perspective, they are saving money because the federal government or state pays for it. However from a taxpayer perspective, this will cost more in the long run and is wasteful in this time where the country needs to lower the national debt and budget deficits, while dealing with aging roads and bridges. The current policy is harmful to historic bridges because it is not possible to build a new historic bridge, a historic bridge can only continue to exist by being maintained or rehabilitated.

3. What improvements would you like to see made?

A far greater percentage of federal and state grants to bridge / transportation agencies should be devoted to aid for projects that involve maintaining, repairing, and rehabilitating existing bridges. This is a policy that would be beneficial for all bridges, not just historic bridges, although historic bridges would greatly benefit. Because it benefits bridges in general, such a policy should enjoy widespread support from the people, since even people who could care less about historic bridges could see the value in maintaining bridges better.

From a historic preservation perspective, it would be nice to see Section 106 apply to all public bridges, not just those with federal involvement. This may be tricky to make reality however because it would touch on a greater issue of states rights and sovereignty. It would also be nice to see Transportation Enhancement grants expanded, or a specific funding program for historic bridges be created similar to the Federal Highway Administration’s  covered bridge funding program, except that this program would preserve all types of historic bridges.

Bridge Street Bridge in Portland in Ionia County, Michigan. One way street, but it appears the politicians are going the wrong way regarding transportation policies and bridge preservation.

4. How would you rate Obama’s performance with regards to what was mentioned in nr.2?  Do you think it will have an impact on the presidential elections?
Obama has not made any improvements to the way in which bridges are funded. The focus continues to be on demolition and replacement projects with limited to no funding for improving existing bridges.

5. Do you think Romney will do better?

Romney would not do better. Both Obama, Romney, and also the various Senators and Representatives that hold positions on surface transportation committees appear to lack understanding of what actually goes on in the world of bridges. They hold the position that this country suffers from “aging” or “crumbling” “infrastructure” as they loosely describe it. They are correct that the “infrastructure” including bridges is crumbling, however I do disagree that “age” is a problem, since if an old bridge is properly maintained in good condition, it can still be safe and functional. These politicians feel that increasing funds is the primary solution to solve the crumbling infrastructure problem. They seem unaware that if we spent more money on rehabilitation and repair that we might be able to make each dollar go further and make greater improvements to infrastructure without increasing the level of funding. They also seem unaware of how wasteful it is to focus only on demolition and replacement.

At the same time, because liberal policy focuses on having government provide people and businesses with assistance to make sure everyone can be successful, liberals (like Obama) are more likely to continue to provide funds for infrastructure. Conservatives like Romney would more likely believe that the people do not need help from government and therefore feel that maintaining a government-owned system of roads and bridges is not a priority. As such I suppose in the short term reduced transportation funding would prevent some historic bridge demolition and replacement projects from moving forward. However it would not bring a halt to the deterioration of these bridges and they would eventually fail and have to be closed. We really do need funding for bridge projects. We just need to change the focus of those projects to maintaining existing bridges.

6. In your opinion, who will win the elections and how will that impact the transportation policies as well as that of historic bridge preservation?

I expect Obama to be reelected and I see no changes in existing surface transportation policy. However, if Romney is elected, I do not see any changes to surface transportation policy. There is a risk that Section 106 and Section 4(f) could be abolished under Romney however, because these protections for historic structures would be seen as government regulation. With the exception of social/religious issues, where Republicans strongly support big government and heavy regulation, Republicans support drastically reducing the role of government. Since historic preservation is not a religious issue, it is undoubtedly something Republicans wish to get rid of.

7. What are your future plans regarding historic bridge preservation?

I plan to continue projects similar to those I outlined above. Continued work through Section 106, and selective direct efforts to save specific bridges.

Thank you, Mr. Holth for your time and assistance in answering some of my questions and best of luck to you.  More interviews between now and 6 November are yet to come.

Interview with James L. Cooper

Photo Courtesy of Tony Dillon

There are many people who have a special interest on a topic and spend a great deal of their free time working on it and presenting it to the general audience. Some of them even spend a great portion of their lives on it. With regards to historic bridges, if one looks back 40 years ago, there were only a handful of people- namely academics, historians, photographers and other enthusiasts- who were passionate about historic bridges- regardless of bridge type, builder, or even history- and worked in this field to generate interest among the common public. The work of people like James Cooper, professor emeritus at DePauw University, has paid off, for the public is more informed about historic bridges and ways to preserve them than they were when he started on this topic 40 years ago.

Phi Beta Kappa Graduate of Wooster College (located between Canton and Mansfield in eastern Ohio) and a Masters and PhD graduate of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Cooper has become known as the father of Indiana’s historic bridges, publishing four books on historic bridges in Indiana and historic bridge preservation over the past 25 years and reviewing over 100 literary works written by many scholars in the field of history, science and technology, and historic preservation, and presenting his topic both live in front of a large audience as well as on TV and radio. He has received many honors and is part of many organizations dealing with history and preservation, including in the field of historic bridges, The Historic Bridge Alliance and the Historic Bridge Foundation, both located in Austin, Texas. Cooper was the keynote speaker at this year’s Historic Bridge Conference, which took place on 21-23 September.

I had a chance to send him some interview questions about his role in historic bridges and he was happy to send me some of his responses in short form to be posted here in this article. He is in the process of posting some of his work as well as literature that is still for sale on a website dealing with Indiana’s historic bridges, which you can click here to access.

Here are some thoughts about his role as the main influential figure in saving historic bridges in the Hoosier state and informing the public on their importance in history….

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  1. What interested you in historic bridges in general?

I started in the late 1970s with an introduction to material culture studies as a supplement to documentary research.  HAER contacts led me into bridge survey work in Indiana which I combined with more traditional research in my survey publications.  Then Indiana Landmarks Foundation contacted me to turn bridge surveying/historical research into preservation efforts.

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2. What is so special about the historic bridges in Indiana?

Indiana was an outpost of eastern transportation forms, routes, and fabrication.  By the 1870s, Hoosiers began to make their own contributions to transportation design and fabrication.  Indiana is part of the process of national development.

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3. You have been working with historic bridges for over 40 years. Can you summarize what accomplishments you have made  apart from books and presentations?

Since I regard myself as a professional historian, books and presentations are more than “not just.’  I have also played a role in the preservation of bridge company documents and records.  Have been a member “of a village” leading (a) to the preservation of a number of structures and (b) to arguments for historically-sensitive repairs rather than replacement one-member-at-a-time.

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4. From your point of view, how big of interest do the people in Indiana have in historic bridges in comparison with other states?

I don’t know about the % of interest by state.  We have an active Covered Bridge contingent.  We have more and better-positioned resources (preservationists, craftsmen, engineers) than most states to support local folk interest in retaining a historic bridges of all materials.

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5. From your point of view, how has the US handled its infrastructure since the Minneapolis Bridge Disaster on 1 August 2007?

The engineers who studied the I-35 event found (a) that the bridge collapsed because of a drafting design error with a given gusset plate, (b) that the Minn Dept of Transport was aware of the plate bucking at least a year before via inspection w/o really addressing same, (c) that the authorities precipitated what was an impending difficulty by allowing the placement of massive construction weight on this part of the bridge.   Much of this agency incompetence got subsumed in the press by pushing forward the annual FHWA/AASHTO/DOT PR over the number of structurally deficient and obsolete bridges on American highways as the implicit “cause” of the disaster.

(Note: FHWA means Federal Highway Administration, the AASHTO stands for American Association of State Highway Transportation Office and PR means public relations)

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6. And in Indiana?

In Indiana, the FHWA and INDOT used the occasion to target historic metal-truss bridges.  Note that I-35 was not that old or historic…but no matter for the PR and agency opportunity.

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7. And the US since Obama took office in 2009?

The old federal system for funding transportation through gas taxes has rather run its course.  The politicians are not willing to increase those taxes nor to provide significant supplementary funding.  Republicans in the House of Reps have even voting to end the dedication of the gas tax to transportation.  Slowly the hwy engineering agencies are beginning to think about more repair rather than more knee-jerk replacement, but we are a way yet from economic and engineering efficiency as the primary values here.

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8. And who will win the 2012 Presidential Elections?

I don’t know who will win in Nov.  If the Democratss get enough in charge of the congress as well as the presidency, they may cobble together some fix for the old funding system.  If the Republicans take charge, we may be in for new transportation funding rules.

Thank you for your time.

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