San Saba Trestle Wins Spectacular Disaster Award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trestle Fire wins Run-Off; I-5 Skagit River and New Castle Bridges tied for second.

Within 25 seconds, it was just gone, and then it just turned into a giant fireball, because of all of the creosote in the cross-ties.- Jack Blossmann

All it took was a combination of heat, dry weather and a spark from a passing train, and a 900-foot long wooden trestle bridge with a more than 100-year history, was engulfed in flames. 30 seconds later, it all came tumbling down, like a stack of dominoes. The San Saba Trestle Bridge near Lometa (located 90 miles west of Waco) spanned the Colorado River and featured a steel through truss span over the river and hundreds of feet of wooden trestle on the west end. Yet its demise created some curiosity among the readers as seen in the video here.  If a teacher shows this disaster to the students in class and they are awed by the sequential cascading disaster, as one of the voters noted, then there is no wonder that the San Saba Bridge would receive the devious prize it deserves. After a week-long run-off vote, the Texas trestle received the Spectacular Disaster Award because of the intense effects of the fire and the bridge’s sequential disaster that followed seconds later. The video shown of the disaster will definitely be shown in many engineering and physics classes to show how dangerous a fire can do to a structure, whose melting temperature is low enough for it to collapse. A devastating loss for the railroad, for it needs $10 million to replace the trestle approach spans, but one that created a lot of curiosity among bridge engineers and scientists alike.

The Trestle beat out the New Castle and Skagit River Bridge Disasters, as they were tied for second place, missing out by only two votes each. This marks the first time in the history of the (recently changed) Author’s Choice Award,  that two bridges received two different awards or honorable mentions in two different categories. The New Castle Bridge west of Oklahoma City had already received the Award for the Worst Preservation Example as the 10-span through truss bridge over the Canadian River was reduced to only one span, thanks to a tornado that destroyed two spans and the city government’s decision to demolish all but one of the remaining spans. It was the same tornado that destroyed Moore and devastated vast parts of Oklahoma City.

The Skagit River crossing in Washington state had received the honorable mention for the Biggest Bonehead Story, as a truck driver dropped the southernmost span into the river after hitting the portal bracing. While this incident raised the debate on what to do with through truss bridges, suggestions by local politicians were above and beyond. The collapsed span has since been replaced and I-5 has returned to normal.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles would like to thank everybody for voting in this year’s Ammann Awards and parts of the Author’s Choice Awards. As mentioned in the previous article, the voting format and the dates of the voting for this year’s 2014 Ammann Awards will be different as there will be more options but more simplicity to encourage people to vote on their candidates. It may be like the Bridge Bowl, but it might serve as a way to talk about the bridge candidates at the table, while serving traditional foods over the holidays. Entries will be taken in November, as usual, so go out there and get some pics, write about your favorite bridges and nominate your favorite historian.

Minus the Post Humous version of the Lifetime Legacy, let’s head back out there and look at the bridges that need your help regarding preservation, shall we?

2013 Ammann Awards: Smith picks his favorites

Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque, Iowa. One of the nine-span 1868 Mississippi River crossing that had existed until 1898 when it was dismantled. Photo taken in August 2013 by John Marvig.

While many people are taking last minute attempts to submit their ballots for the 2013 Ammann Awards, as the deadline was extended to January 11th due to the extreme severe cold weather that kept many from voting, the author of the Chronicles went ahead and chose the select few bridges that deserve the best attention possible. In its third year, the Smith Awards go out to the bridges that serve as examples of how they should be preserved from the author’s point of view.  This year’s Smith Awards also hit a record for the number of entries, for many examples were presented that should be brought to the attention to those whose historic bridge may be deemed unsafe in their eyes, but restorable in the eyes of those who have the experience in preservation as those who have close ties with the structure.

So without commenting further, let’s give out the Smith Awards beginning with:

Quinn Creek Kingpost Bridge in Fayette County, Iowa. Photo taken in August 2013 by James Baughn

BEST BRIDGE FIND: 

USA:

This year’s Smith Awards for the Best Bridge Find in the United States is given to three Iowa bridges because of their unique features. The first one goes out to the Kingpost through truss bridge spanning Quinn Creek in Fayette County. Built around 1885 by Horace Horton, this bridge was thought to have disappeared from view in the 1990s when it was replaced by a series of culverts. Bill Moellering, the former county engineer and Ammann Award for Lifetime Achievement candidate was the first person to prove us wrong, for he mentioned of the bridge’s existence during our correspondence in March of last year (I had asked him to speak at the Historic Bridge Weekend, which he accepted). Dave King and James Baughn provided the pictorial evidence a few months later. Albeit not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this one will most likely be listed in the near future. And given the county’s staunch stance regarding its historic bridges, this bridge will remain in its place for many generations to come.

The second one goes  to the Bergfeld Pond Bridge in Dubuque. This span was one of the nine spans of the 1868 bridge that had spanned the Mississippi River for 30 years before it was dismantled and the spans were dispersed all over the country. This one is in its third home, as it used to span Whitewater Creek near Monticello before its relocation to its present spot in 2006-7. The next question is: what happened to the rest of the spans? The Chronicles will have an article on this unique span in the near future.

Photo taken by the author in September 2010

And the last one goes to the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama in Tama County. The bridge was built by Paul Kingsley in 1915, two years after the Lincoln Highway, which the bridge carried this route for many years, was created. Its unique feature is the lettering on the concrete railings, something that cannot be found with any other concrete bridge in the US, or even Europe. The bridge was part of the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway celebrations last year and will surely have a celebration of its own in 2015, the same year as the 100th anniversary of the Jefferson Highway, which meets the Lincoln Highway at Colo, located west of this bridge. As James Baughn commented through his bridgehunter.com facebook page: “It is a true crime to visit Iowa and NOT photograph this bridge.” This one I have to agree.

 

Photo taken by S. Moeller. Public domain through wikipedia

International:

Fehmarn Sound Bridge in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany:  Spanning the channel connecting mainland Germany and Fehmarn Island, this 1963 bridge was unique for it was the first bridge in the world to use the basket-style tied arch design. It has since been recognized a national historical landmark. Yet another unique bridge in North Rhine-Westphalia received larger recognition this year, and because this bridge type was used extensively beginning in the 1990s, this bridge fell to the wayside. Yet it at least deserves this honor for the work engineers and construction crews put in to make this span possible, especially as it is one of the key landmarks to see, while visiting northern Germany. The bridge still serves rail and vehicular traffic today, albeit it will receive a sibling in a form of another crossing that will connect Fehmarn Island with Denmark, thus eliminating the need for ferry service and completing the direct rail connection between Berlin and Copenhagen through Hamburg and this location.  Construction is expected to begin in 2018.

BIGGEST BONEHEAD STORY:

International:

St Jean Baptiste  Bridge in Manitoba, Canada.  What is much worse than replacing a historic bridge against the will of the people? How about tearing down a historic bridge that is a key crossing to a small community and NOT rebuilding it. This is what happened to this three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge in February 2013. Extreme hot weather combined with flooding from the rains in the fall of 2012 undermined the easternmost abutment and bank of the crossing, prompting officials in Winnepeg to not only close down the bridge, but dropped the entire structure into the Red River of the North. The implosion occurred in February 2013.  This has created widespread pandemonium not only because of its historic significance (it was built in 1947), but because of the detour of up to 50 kilometers either to Morris Bridge or to Dominion City to cross the river. There is still no word from Winnipeg regarding whether or when the bridge will be rebuilt, angering them even more.  A sin that is not forgiven, and politicians making that unintelligent decision will most likely be voted out of office in the upcoming parliamentary elections, if they have not been relieved of duties already.

Note: A new bridge would cost up to CDN $60 million and take five years to build.

More on this story can be found here.

 

Second place:

Europa Bridge in Rendsburg, Germany. The incident in Canada far eclipses the incident involving the 42-year old bridge crossing the Baltic-North Sea Canal, where crews closed most important crossing connecting Flensburg and Denmark in the North with Hamburg and the rest of Germany in the South. And this during the peak of summer travel in July!  While trying to squeeze across using the tunnel carrying a main street through Rendsburg, the closure left travelers with no choice but to use the rail line and the Rendsburg High Bridge.  You can imagine how crowded the trains were at that time. Given the fact that the A-7, which crosses this bridge, is the main artery slicing through Germany, many residents are still scratching their heads and demanding the logic behind this abrupt closure of an important link between the south and north.

 

USA

Ponn Humpback Covered Bridge: Arsonism overtook the theft of metal components from bridges as the number one culprit that has either severely damaged or even destroyed historic bridges. At least a dozen reports of vandalism and arson on historic bridges were reported this year in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and even Iowa. What gets people to set bridges made of wood, or metal bridges with wooden decking is unknown, except for the fact that their ignorance is hurting the counties that maintain them as tourist attractions.  The Ponn Humpback Covered Bridge in Vinton County, Ohio is a classic example of one of those victims of arson. Built in 1874, the bridge used to be one of two in the country with an arched bridge deck until fire engulfed the bridge in June 2013. This five years after the county had spent over $300,000 in restoring the bridge by adding a new roof and improving the trusses and decking.  Police are still looking for the perpetrator to this day and more information about the incident can be found here. It’s unknown whether this bridge will be rebuilt, especially as there is a steel pony truss bridge built alongside the structure to accommodate traffic.

More on the tragedy here.

 

Second Place: 

I-5 Skagit River Bridge in Washington:  Not far behind the theme of arson is the collapse of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge in Washington state, which occurred in May 2013. A semi-truck exceeded the vertical clearance limit on the portal bracing of this 1950s through truss bridge, sending part of the bridge into the water. While the driver was not cited, it sparked a debate on how to deal with through truss bridges with many people wanting them taken off the roadways for good. One state senator even went further by advocating the elimination of the Section 106 and Environmental Impact Survey requirements for bridge replacement. Both of these are way too expensive and, as a political science professor at the University of Jena would say: “It will just not happen.” So we’re going to end this topic by travelling to a through truss bridge on any highway- on a reduced load- and cross it, appreciating its grace and beauty!

More on the bridge disaster here.

 

Bonus:

Ft. Lauderdale Railroad Bridge:  There are many reasons why No Trespassing signs are posted on railroad bridges. Add this incident involving a railroad bridge in the Florida community. A 55-year old woman, walking home from her breast cancer walk, found herself hanging onto dear life from a bascule bridge that had lifted to allow ships to pass- and getting a pose in the process from thousands of onlookers who took pictures and posted them onto the social network pages!  Being dressed in pink and in an outfit like that probably made many people react in strange way, but for her, it probably made her day. Fortunately she was rescued by fire crews, but it redefined the meaning of No Trespassing, which now ranks up there with being photographed by automated cameras in Europe if exceeding the speed limit on the motorways.  Do as expected, or expect to shamed in the media!  More on the story here.

SALVAGEABLE MENTIONED:

Photo taken in August 2011

Roof Truss Bridge at FW Kent Park in Iowa:  This crossing has a unique story. The truss bridge was built using the steel trusses from a vintage automotive dealer in Iowa City, four miles east of the park, which were found in the ditch along the road in the late 1980s and converted into a bridge to serve the pedestrian path encircling the lake. The bridge is a must see, as it is located on the north end of the lake and is one of nine truss bridges that makes the core of the park. Click here for more about this story.

 

 Honorably Mentioned

New Bennington Bridge in Vermont:  Technically, this bridge should have gotten this award for it featured a one of a kind Moseley iron arch span whose superstructure was found along the road in the ditch, cut in half and was put together as a truss bridge now serving a park complex. Yet the difference is the creativity aspect, for this salvaged and restored span had once been  a bridge before it was taken out of service. Hence its nomination in the Ammann Awards for Best Bridge Preservation Practice. It would not be surprising if these two bridges won their respective awards for 2013.

 

WORST EXAMPLE OF HOW TO PRESERVE A HISTORIC BRIDGE

View inside the bridge. Photo taken by Steve Conro, released into public domain through http://www.bridgehunter.com

 

New Castle Bridge near Oklahoma City: The 10-span Parker through truss bridge was a victim of a double-tragedy: a tornado that destroyed two of the spans and the demolition of all but one span, as directed by the local and state governments. It is unclear what the plans are for the remaining span, yet this act falls in line with eating up all but the head of the gingerbread man. A tortuous loss that should have gone one way or the other: dismantle and store the remaining trusses for restoration and reuse or tear down the whole structure and risk receiving the Bonehead Award for 2013, which was given to the arsonists who succeeded all the way in this type of business.

 

BEST EXAMPLE OF HOW TO PRESERVE A HISTORIC BRIDGE

USA:   

The Petit Jean Bridge in front of Danville City Hall. Photos courtesy of J. Randall Houp

Petit Jean Bridge in Arkansas:  While looking at this 1880 bowstring arch bridge, one would say that it is a typical vintage bridge that deserves to be honored, even if it is demolished with the information being placed in the books. Yet apart from its history with an infamous lynching incident in 1883 that scarred Yell County, the Petit Jean Bridge receives this award and is in the running for the Ammann Awards for Best Preservation Practice for a good reason: It is the only bridge in the state, let alone one of a few rare bridges that was relocated more than one time in its lifetime- and still retained its original form! The bridge was relocated three times, including one to its final resting point this past October: in front of the Danville City Hall to be part of a city bike trail network. If the Petit Jean Bridge wins the Ammann Awards in addition to this one, it will be because of the care that the county took in relocating and restoring the bridge multiple times. What other historic bridge can make this prestigious claim?

 

International:

Three bridges in the UK have received the Smith Rewards for the best example of preserving a historic bridge. The first one goes to the Llangollen Chain Bridge in the Northeastern Part of Wales. The cantilever suspension bridge was built in 1929, even though the crossing has a 200-year tradition, yet it was closed to all traffic 30 years ago due to safety concerns. Since that time, efforts were undertaken to raise funds for restoring and reopening the structure connecting the Llangollen Canal and the railway. This was successful and the bridge is currently being restored, awaiting reassembly  this year.  The second one goes to the Whitby Swing Bridge in North Yorkshire, a duo-span deck girder swing bridge that underwent renovations totaling £250,000 last year to redo and waterproof the electric wiring, strengthen and paint the girders. It worked wonders for while flooding this past December left the swing spans in the open position, no damage was done to the electrical wiring and the superstructure itself. Something that people can take pride in and show others how restoring a swing bridge can actually work.  And lastly, the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge, located near Chester (England) is currently undergoing an extensive rehabilitation to rework the swing mechanism, strength the Howe trusses and improve the decking for a total of £4.5 million, with the goal of prolonging its lifespan by 50 years. The preparations for this project was herculean for a temporary span was constructed prior to the closure of the 90-year old structure, for the bridge provides the only vital link between the two communities.  Once the bridge reopens next year, it will show to the public that the project and its difficulties in arrangement and processes was really worth it, especially as the people of the two communities have a close relationship with the bridge.

For more information on these bridges, click on the links marked in the text. As you can see in the selections, it is just as difficult in choosing them as it is for people voting for the candidates for the Ammann Awards. Yet despite the fear that 2013 would usher in the year of destruction of historic bridges- and we’ve seen a lion’s share this year- it actually was a good year for many unique examples were restored for reuse, marking a sign that the interest in historic bridges is huge- both in the United States, as well as elsewhere. How 2014 will take shape depends on numerous factors, which include the interest in historic bridges, the increasing number of preservationists and technical personnel willing to restore them, and lastly the financial standpoint. There was speculation that the Crash of 2008 in the US marked the end of the preservation movement, yet that did not seem to move the people whose close ties with these structures remain steadfast. If communities cooperate with private groups and provide support towards preserving the remaining historic bridges, as seen with the Bunker Mill, Riverside and Green Bridges, then there is a great chance that they will receive new life and will be greeted by the new generations interested in them. Without cooperation and funding, the structures will simply sit there rotting until they are swept away by the ages of time.

On to the results of the Ammann Awards; even though the deadline is January 11th to submit your votes, the results will be given out on the 13th. Stay tuned.

 

 

Height detector test: New innovation for high truss bridges?

Photo taken in August 2013

In light of the I-5 bridge disaster over the Skagit River in Washington State, whose cause was a truck hitting the portal bracing of the Warren through truss bridge, questions have flown around as to whether a witch hunt to eradicate them is worth all the billions of dollars to be spent, or if it makes more sense to restrict them further for a fraction of the price and if so, how?

What about the usage of height detectors? This concept may be unusual to many engineers and politicians, but they are being used in many regions of the country today.

Like this one in Le Sueur, Minnesota. Located along the Minnesota River, the largest community of Le Sueur County with 4,000 inhabitants is the birth place of William Mayo, one of the founders of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, two hours to the east of town. While the town has a nice city center to the east of the railroad, it does have a thorn on its side, something city officials are hoping to get rid of when the railroad decides to abandon its line between Mankato and Shakopee, which is this deck plate girder bridge:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This railroad bridge crosses Hwy. 93 and has provided numerous headaches for drivers for two reasons: 1. The hill leading to the underpass is steep and after going underneath the bridge, you end up on the Minnesota River bridge and 2. The underpass is too narrow and too low for trucks to pass, forcing many truck drivers to use the exit to the north of town (at Hwy. 112 and US Hwy. 169). As the railroad is very active on this line, state and local authorities for many years have tried to place warning signs on both ends of the crossing, even warning drivers from as far away as US Hwy. 169 to consider other options if their load is too wide or even too narrow.

This concept was found just east of the interchange on Hwy. 93. How it functions is simple: if an overheight truck passes by the detector, an alarm will activate warning drivers of the danger ahead forcing him to change his course. A secondary alarm is activated warning police and other officials of the danger ahead so that they can act quickly and stop the person before reaching the underpass or bridge with a low clearance.

Given the lack of ability of some drivers to pay attention to weight and height restrictions of many bridges in the country, with the resulting factor being damage or destruction of the structure, this concept may be the best solution to the problems involving bridges with these handicaps. With millions of bridges with height restrictions on America’s highways, the cost for replacing every single structure would be so exorbitant that it would put the entire country back into an economic recession that would be worse than the one we just saw recently in 2008/09. This is not counting the cost for environmental impact and mitigation surveys and the design of the structure. In Minnesota alone, at least two dozen of these bridges are still in operation on the state’s highways, many of which still have some years of service left, like the Hwy. 7 Bridge west of Montevideo. This Parker span has spanned the Chippewa River since 1959 and is in tip-top condition.

Photo taken in December 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This leads us to our question for the forum:

Do you think that height and weight restriction devices like the one in Le Sueur would be the most effective way to keep overweight and/or oversize vehicles from utilizing bridges with such restrictions? If so, how can we ensure that these people obey these restrictions without damaging or destroying the bridge? If it is not a viable solution, what alternatives would you recommend?

You can place your comments here on this page, or on the Chronicles’ facebook or LinkedIn pages. By doing so, you might have some ideas to share with others, who might find them interesting and useful. Furthermore it will help many people who think replacement is the only option to look at more reasonable options which can save money and force many people to think common sense.  Looking forward to your thoughts on this innovation, which seems to be a very effective solution to our height and weight problems on the roads.

Note: The Skagit River crossing reopened to traffic on 15 September after crews replaced the temporary Bailey truss spans with concrete beams spans, built at the site where a section of the truss bridge collapsed. More information can be found here.

The Minnesota River crossing featured a 700 foot truss bridge (400 foot Pennsylvania, 200 foot Parker and 100 foot Warren pony) built in 1923 by the Wausau (Wisconsin) Bridge and Iron Works Company, replacing an iron Post through truss bridge. It used to carry US Hwy. 169 before it was relocated to the west and served as a bypass in 1967. The bridge was replaced with a current structure- a concrete slab bridge- in 1984. A photo of the Post truss can be found here as well as the 1923 span (here).

Newsflyer 24 June, 2013

Saale-Elster Viaduct in Halle (Saale) during its construction. Photo taken in June 2011

 

Longest railroad viaduct in Germany completed; German Autobahn viaduct demolished; I-5 Bridge in Washington state reopened; conception of a truss bridge in Virginia;

A lot of activities went on this weekend involving several bridges in the US and Europe, but the biggest ones happened to occur in Germany, for while several historic bridges have fallen to progress, one made history even though it is not open to traffic just yet. Here are the headlines you need to know.

Saale-Elster Viaduct under construction. Photo taken in June 2011

Saale-Elster Viaduct near Halle (Saale) completed. To be used for rail traffic in 2016.

6.5 kilometers long- equivalent to over four miles.  20-30 meters tall, tall enough to ride over the waters of the Saale and White Elster Rivers even if the fields and roads are underwater. All concrete except for the steel through arch span spanning a 2.1 kilometer approach viaduct connecting Halle (Saale) and the main railline. Those are the features of the new Saale-Elster Viaduct, which was completed this past Saturday at a cost of over 800 million Euros, mostly financed by the federal government and the Die Bahn (German Railways). It is part of the multi-billion Euro project that has been ongoing since 1992 and features not only this bridge, but hundreds of other bridges and tunnels as the new ICE-train route will connect Leipzig and Halle with Nuremberg via Erfurt. When the bridge is open to traffic at the beginning of 2016, all trips between Berlin and Munich as well as Frankfurt (Main) and Dresden will be cut in half as the ICE trains are expected to travel up to 350 kmph (180 mph) to their destinations. The viaduct can be seen along the InterCity railline connecting Halle (Saale) and Jena just after crossing the historic Skopau Bridge spanning the Saale River south of the southernmost city in Saxony-Anhalt. This bridge is not only the longest railroad viaduct in Germany- even surpassing another ICE-Viaduct the Rombachtal Viaduct in eastern Hesse, which still holds the title as the second tallest in Germany. The bridge is the longest vehicular viaduct in Germany, surpassing the Motorway A6 viaduct near Neckarsulm in Baden- Wurttemberg.

 

The Skopau Railroad Bridge serving the IC Jena-Halle line and the Saale River bike trail. From here you can see the newly completed longest viaduct in Germany. Photo taken in June 2011
The Rombachtal Viaduct in eastern Hesse spanning the Rombach and the Eisenach- Kassel railline carrying the Frankfurt-Hamburg ICE line between Fulda and Kassel. Photo taken in May 2010

 

Autobahn Motorway viaduct near Fulda demolished.

Heading 230 kilometers to the southwest to northwestern Bavaria, another viaduct made the headlines but in a different way. Located in Bad Bruckenau in the district of Bad Kissingen, east of Frankfurt (Main), the Sinnetal Viaduct made headlines for the 46 year-old viaduct made of steel and concrete was imploded on Saturday. As many as 8,000 spectators watched in awe as explosives installed in the concrete columns were detonated, and the entire structure fell 100 meters to the ground in four seconds. Built in 1967 to serve the longest and most heavily traveled Autobahn A7 connecting Flensburg and Austria, the 800 meter long bridge became the poster boy of how concrete bridges were treated, with salt and other substances that penetrated the concrete and steel causing rust and erosion, and with heavily travelled vehicles, some of which went over the weight and height limit. Already in 2009, construction had started on its replacement and was completed and opened to traffic at the beginning of this year. The demolition of the old bridge (shown here in this article) should serve as a reminder to state and federal agencies that even modern bridges require maintenance in order for them to last longer than 50 years. There’s no such thing as a bridge requiring no maintenance and lasting 100 years and the Sinnetal Bridge should serve as an example for agencies to rethink the way bridges are being handled by traffic.

The Magodee Bridge (old) being lifted by crane. Photo taken by Donald Sowers, used with permission

Truss bridge replaced with another truss bridge. Old bridge to be reused.

Sometimes it is not necessary to replace truss bridges with concrete bridges, but with another truss bridge. Such trends have been reported in states, like Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia, for they are conventional and the aesthetics match the scenery than a white bland bridge. But for this bridge, the Magodee Bridge in Franklin County, Virginia, it may set a new trend for other historic bridges receiving new life. The 1929 Warren pony truss was replaced recently with- another Warren pony truss! The length is almost identical and both have riveted connections! The difference? The new pony truss bridge is now used for vehicular traffic, while the old pony truss span, now located behind the old mill, as seen in the pics courtesy of Donald Sowers, will receive new life as a pedestrian bridge located only a few hundred meters from the existing structure! Wouldn’t you like to have an old bridge and a new nearly identical span located not far from each other being used as a tourist trap? For the owner of the mill and the old bridge, the dream will become a reality. For more information on how to make the reality come true, please contact Mr. Sowers at this e-mail address: desowers@centurylink.net.

The new Magodee Bridge with the old span behind the mill. Photo taken by Donald Sowers, used with permission

I-5 Washington Bridge reopens but on restrictions

Nearly a month after the spectactular collapse of the Skagit River Interstate 5 Bridge in Washington state, the collapsed portion of the bridge was rebuilt, using Bailey trusses, and the bridge was reopened to traffic on Friday. But there are several exceptions: No oversized trucks and vehicles requiring special permits will be allowed to use the bridge and will be forced to take the detours that have been used since the collapse. The speed limit has been reduced to 40 mph instead of 60 as enforced before the accident. And the spans are only temporary as the state and federal governments are planning a more permanent crossing, although it is unclear whether the temporary span will be rebuilt as a permanent span or if the entire bridge itself, built in 1956 featuring a Warren through truss design, will be demolished in favor of a newer and even wider bridge. The Chronicles will keep you up to date on the developments regarding the bridge.

29 new bridges in 19 kilometers along the German Autobahn 9!

Built in 1936, the German Autobahn Motorway 9, connecting Berlin and Munich is known as the oldest freeway in Germany, and one of the oldest freeways in the world with many historic markers, including the oldest motorway inn Rodatal in Thuringia, the Vockeroda Bridge and neon marker in Saxony-Anhalt, the Hirschberg Restaurant, one of only two located over the motorway in Germany, and the Bridge of German Unity located at the Bavaria-Thuringia border which also served as the border crossing between East and West Germany. Since 1990 the 530 kilometer (330 mile) route was expanded from four lanes with no emergency lanes to six lanes with emergency lanes to provide safety and efficiency along the highway. This includes the replacement of bridges and overpasses dating as far back as 1936. At the present time, construction is commencing on the last bottleneck between Triptis in Thuringia and the Bavarian border- a span of 20 kilometers. With that, the last of the 1936 bridges and overpassees are coming down for they no longer are able to accomodate the increase in traffic. This includes 18 overpasses and the expansion of the border bridge, built in 1966 replacing the 1936 structure that was destroyed in World War II. Overall, there will be 29 new bridges with modern but attractive appearances when the project is finished in 2014. This includes the railroad bridge connecting the rail line between Schleiz and Ziegenrück on the Saale River. Out of service since 1990, there is hope that funding is available to build a new bridge and connect the two villages by train. At the moment, a dandyhorse rail service is being used by tourists, but once the railroad overpass is completed and the line reopened, the area will become a magnet for tourists again.

My two cents: diet time for truck(-er)s crossing bridges

Upper Paris Bridge in Linn County. Photo taken in August 2011

It is unknown which is worse this past week: torrential rains and unseasonably cold weather in Germany and parts of Europe as well as the US, or the bickering that has blossomed in light of the I-5 Skagit River Bridge disaster, which has reached new levels this weekend.  Already many massive media giants have decided to go with the Culture of Fear trend and have started bashing bridge types and incremental repairs to the aging structures in favor of more giantic concrete structures that can handle traffic for 100 years. This was clearly demonstrated in an Associated Press blog posted in the US Bridges website, which you can see here.

The response has been overwhelming. Many pontists and engineers have balked at the article, claiming that bridges can be maintained and rehabilitated without having to waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a concrete slab bridge, whose lifespan is half of that of other bridge types, such as trusses, cantilever trusses, suspension, and even arches. Some have responded by saying that they should talk to the real bridge experts than the politicians who think they know about the design specifics and how a bridge should be built, but in all reality, they do not even have a degree in civil engineering to prove it.

From a columnists’ point of view, the problem lies clearly on the deregulation of the transportation industry, where since the Reagan years (and the mentality of deregulation), we have seen an enormous increase in the number of vehicles that are overweight, oversized, or both, combined with drivers who do not know the limits of driving with this excessiveness. In the last 25 years, many roads, bridges and tunnels have taken a severe beating because of this high volume of traffic that is on the highways.

The collapse of the bridge in Washington should serve as a wake-up call to all politicians to pass tougher federal measures to put limits on the amount of load a truck is required to carry and enforce strict fines and other penalties for drivers violating these regulations. Furthermore, trucking companies should be required to invest in GPS technology suitable for trucks only to ensure that truck drivers choose the routes and crossings most appropriate to them.  And finally, truckers should take extra training, putting them in practical situations to have them prepare for the unexpected. While this may take more money than what is being invested, in the long term, it will pay more dividends than going on a Salem Bridge Witch Trial, tearing down bridges that are still in good condition, just because the media says that thousands of bridges are at risk of “a freak accident.”

One can point fingers at stupidity or bridge design flaws as the reason for bridges like Skagit to fail, and the Washington transportation officials will scramble to put a pair of Bailey Trusses in place of the fallen truss span while planning a bridge with no vertical clearance issues. Yet in all reality, we should have learned our lesson from another bridge disaster, namely the Minneapolis Bridge disaster of 2007, which is in order to have an efficient infrastructure that carries us from point A to point B, we need to give a little for the safety of other travellers using it as well. This applies to roads, bridges, tunnels, and the drivers who use them. Henceforth, less is more. Less of a load means a more prolonged life span for a bridge. This is something that we (and especially truck drivers) should consider in the future.