Interview with Sue Threader and Kate Castle of Rochester Bridge

From Left: Pictured are Kate Castle (Senior Engineer) & Sue Threader (Bridge Clerk) at Rochester Bridge Trust.

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Love builds bridges where there are none, and bridges are built with the love and care that only bridge engineers can give them. Yet for a bridge to last forever, tender loving care is needed by the same engineers to ensure they are maintained not only by their function as a crossing but also by its outer appearance. In order to ensure they are properly maintained and to understand how bridges work, education and only education is the key. 

When looking at the Rochester Bridge, we look at a unique structure that features not only one crossing, but as many as four: Two roadway structures, one walkway for maintenance and one two-track railroad structure. Each one coming from different generations- a lattice iron bridge dating back to the Victorian era, a three-span steel arch bridge built in 1910s and the youngest bridge is over 50 years old and made of concrete and steel. But there are more things about the bridge that goes way beyond the structures that exist. We have the ornamental warden houses on each end of the arch bridge, the architecture mimicking the Roman times and each corner having a statue of the lion; the lion is the bridge’s mascot. There’s the bridge chapel which had many lives apart from being a church. It is now a meeting place for the bridge trust. And one mustn’t forget the Esplanade with its ornate walkway to allow for tourists to be in awe of the structure and get as many photos as possible.

The bridge has maintained its composure as a structure that not only functions, but also looks attractive to visitors but in part because of the regular maintenance it has received. It has also been a poster boy for learning about bridges and how they are built and maintained. After all, the first bridge at this site dates back to the Roman Empire, built using stone. The bridge has been rebuilt at least four times before the Victorian era when the present-day railroad bridge was built. And the rest was history.

To ensure that the public can appreciate the beauty of the bridge and understand how bridges are built and cared for, the bridge underwent an 18-month extensive rehabilitation project that included everything that needed to be fixed, cleaned and in some cases, renewed so that the bridge looks like new. In addition, further ways of educating the public about this bridge including the use of technology has brought the public closer to the topic of bridges, how they are built and more importantly, how they are maintained with tender loving care. This project has reaped awards as the bridge has received accolades from several institutions nationally and internationally.

And that includes the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards, where the Rochester Bridge won in the category Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Kate Castle won in the category Lifetime Achievement. We decided to interview both her and Sue Threader, about the entire project to get an inside look at the bridge, the Rochester Bridge Trust, the bridges’ restoration project and how the bridge has become one of Rochester England’s prized attractions. So without further ado, here are some things we know about the bridge from their aspects:

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1. (Both) How would you summarize the Rochester Bridge in terms of its description and history?

The first Rochester Bridge was constructed by the Romans, around the time of their invasion in 43AD. The Roman bridge crossed the River Medway on the line of Watling Street, the main Roman road running from London to Richborough and Dover on the Kent coast. 

After centuries of maintenance and repair, the Roman bridge was washed away by flood waters and ice in 1381.

Ten years later we have the medieval stone bridge, which was constructed some hundred yards upriver of the Roman ruins. Then in the 1850s the Victorians replaced that bridge and Sir William Cubitt built his new bridge on the route of the original Roman crossing.

Today we have three bridges. The Old Bridge (1914) a reconstruction of the Victorian bridge; the New Bridge (1970) and the often-overlooked Service Bridge.

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2. What is the role of the Rochester Bridge Trust?

The Rochester Bridge Trust (RBT) was founded in 1399 by Sir John de Cobham and Sir Robert Knolles to ensure the provision of passage over, under or across the River Medway between Rochester and Strood, in perpetuity. They petitioned King Richard II for the organisation (now a registered charity) to be created, and they sought donations of land and money from other wealthy landowners. These donations formed the basis of the current estate of the Rochester Bridge Trust and fund all works.

Today, that means maintaining the three bridges (two road, and one carrying services). This includes managing the Trust’s historic estate to ensure there are enough funds to carry out any work; and supporting engineering and agricultural education, to ensure the expertise we require continues to be developed.

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3. In the RBT Website, there is a lion named Langdon, who entertains the younger visitors who want to see the bridge. Who was behind the creation of Langdon and why? What role does he play with the bridge?

Langdon the Lion is our education mascot and has his own dedicated website: https://rochesterbridgetrust.org.uk/

His inspiration comes from the lion statues that decorate the Old Bridge, with his name taken from Langdon Manor Farm, one of the first properties to be donated to the Trust and still under the charity’s ownership today.

We introduce Langdon to children with this story: https://rochesterbridgetrust.org.uk/meet-langdon/legend-langdon-lion/

His role is to help inspire young people to take an interest in bridges and civil engineering.

4. Tell us in simple terms about the restoration project on the Rochester Bridge based on the following questions

    a. Why was the restoration needed?  

It is essential that large bridges are properly maintained. Although our team carries out regular routine maintenance, there comes a time when more extensive work is needed to make sure the crossings remain safe and secure. It’s a bit like the schedule of services you might have with a car – you routinely keep it clean, change the oil and replace the bulbs, but after a large number of miles, the timing belt needs to be replaced. We had reached the point where the Trust’s three bridges at Rochester needed some more major work, and so we carried out the Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project.

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    b. What areas of the bridge needed to be restored?

This is a brief introduction to the works. The New Bridge was built in the late 1960s and some parts, such as the lighting, parapet and expansion joints, had reached the end of their serviceable life and needed to be replaced.

The lighting on the Old Bridge needed a review and it was time to improve its efficiency and install LEDs to reduce the environmental impact. Because of the bridge’s Grade II listed status, the existing lights were refurbished and upgraded and some additional matching lanterns were specially designed. We also carried out numerous unseen works to repair steel and concrete, as well as a complete re-waterproofing and re-laying of the roadway.

A new roof was installed on the Service Bridge.

Rochester Esplanade was constructed in 1856, from the remains of the old medieval bridge. The structure and river wall needed some attention and a new drainage system was installed. The whole area in front of the Bridge Chamber was landscaped and new benches added, together with information about the history of the bridges.

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    c. How was the bridge restored?

A major programme of engineering works was carried out over a period of 18 months. Hundreds of different activities took place along the length of the bridges and surrounding area. Much of the work was unseen by the public because it took place on the huge scaffold beneath the deck, which alone cost well over a million pounds.

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    d. How was traffic impacted by the restoration project?

Traffic impact was kept to a minimum. During the whole 18-month project there were fewer than 100 hours of bridge closure, and then only in one direction. Works were carried out in phases and mostly at night, using single lane closures to ensure traffic could continue to flow.

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    e. How was the project financed? Did you do any fundraisers prior to the project?

The £12m project was paid for privately, by the Rochester Bridge Trust, using funds generated by the historic estate. There was no cost to the public.

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    f. Which engineering firms/ construction companies were involved with the project?

The work was carried out by lead contractor FM Conway and a team of specialist sub-contractors.

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    g. When did the restoration begin and how long did the project last?

The refurbishment began in April 2019. There was a temporary closure while covid-safety measures were implemented at the start of the pandemic, with the works taking 18 months. The project was completed ahead of schedule in December 2021.

All the carbon generated during this project has been offset with the planting of more than 8,000 trees to create a new woodland.

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    h. How is the Rochester Bridge different now than before the project?

The three bridges have now been put into the best possible condition for the future, meaning that no major interventions – excluding the unexpected – should be required for many years to come.

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  1. Are there any missing items that need to be taken care of on the bridge?

There are no missing items on the bridge. The nature of bridge maintenance means there are always activities to be carried out.

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5. What was your reaction to winning the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards in the category of Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge? What statement does it have with historic bridge preservation in your opinion?

This refurbishment was a significant project for us and we are very pleased to see Rochester Bridge recognised in these international awards.

We spent many years preparing for this project and ensuring everything would be carried out to the best possible standard, prioritising quality over cost. To see such an interest in our refurbishment, and to have people from all over the world voting for our bridge shows how much they appreciated our efforts and our Old Bridge.

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6. What roles did you play in the project (including title and description):

    a. Kate Castle
As the Bridge Programme Manager I worked alongside the Bridge Clerk to ensure all elements of the Rochester Bridge Refurbishment Project were carried out according to plan.

    b. Sue Threader

I am the Bridge Clerk [Chief Executive] of the Rochester Bridge Trust, and I oversaw the whole project.

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7. What is your career background prior to joining the RBT?

    a. Kate Castle
I graduated with a degree in civil engineering at the University of Surrey in 2002 and my background is in traffic and road safety engineering. I’ve worked for both the client and consultancy design sign, including Transport for London and Hyder Consulting. During these differing roles I gained project management experience which gave me a combination of skills that was vital during the refurbishment project. I joined the Trust in 2020, having been part of the wider team at then Bridge Engineer Arcadis since early 2013.

    b. Sue Threader
I graduated with a degree in civil and structural engineering from the University of Sheffield in 1988. I’ve worked for several local authorities as a civil engineer and transportation planner before joining the international engineering consultancy, WSP Group plc, in 1998 as a Technical Director. Moving back to the public sector in 2001, I held the post of Deputy Chief Executive and firstly Director of Services, then Director of Resources, for a district council in Surrey. I joined the Rochester Bridge Trust in 2006.

I am also a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Engineers and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Archives Panel. I was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by the University of West London and an Outstanding Contribution Award from the ICE in recognition of my work to promote civil engineering to young people.

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8. Why did you choose your respective posts at RBT?

    a. Kate Castle
Having worked with the Rochester Bridge Trust for many years I already knew the structures and the breadth of interesting engineering involved in the site. It’s great to be able to contribute to this important historic river crossing.

    b. Sue Threader

As a civil engineer with an interest in history, the Rochester Bridge Trust brings together two of my favourite topics. It’s also a pleasure to be able to work for the same organisation that previously employed my engineering hero, Sir William Cubitt.

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9. Kate Castle, the crew at Bridge Boys, based in California, nominated you for Lifetime Achievement which you won decisively in the voting. Congratulations on winning the title! What are your reactions to winning the awards?

I’m overwhelmed! It’s wonderful to have my work recognised. During the project I took a lot of trouble creating virtual tours of the bridges as a replacement to the hard hat tours that covid prevented. To know that my explanations were appreciated and helped to bring the engineering to life all around the world is really special. Thank you to the Bridge Boys for nominating me and to everyone who felt my work was worthy of this award.

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10. (Kate Castle) What makes this bridge special to you, in your opinion?

All bridges are brilliant because they do an important job connecting people. This set of bridges is particularly special because of the extensive history that came before us – our archives om the Trust’s history are amazing and to be continuing that story is both a challenge and a joy. It’s also great to work on a local landmark, the Old Bridge’s bowstring-shaped trusses are an integral part of the Rochester landscape.

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11. (Kate Castle) What elements of a historic bridge are important and that people should appreciate? 

For me it’s the little details, such as ornamentation. We have lots of lions, heraldry, fruit, rams, crowns and more and it really emphasises the care and attention lavished on the Old Bridge when it was constructed. The Victorians who built our bridge wanted it to be beautiful as well as functional.

Some historic bridges tell their story in their structure too, for example the piers of our Old Bridge are older than the bowstring-shaped trusses – identifying the different phases within the structure can lead to the discovery of interesting stories.

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12. (Kate Castle) And that of the Rochester Bridge in your opinion?

That also.

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13. (Both of you) If there is a historic bridge that has as high value as the Rochester Bridge, what advice would you give to the group wanting to save the bridge?

Keep up with regular maintenance because it’s more efficient to do that, in terms of both cost and carbon usage, than having to completely replace a bridge when it’s been allowed to deteriorate too much to save.

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14. What is next for the bridge: Are you planning on writing a book about the project?

The project is fully documented in our archives which cover more than 600 years of the bridge’s history (the period since the foundation of the Rochester Bridge Trust).

As for what’s next? We never sit back and think, we fixed that bridge, so we can stop. We’re constantly looking for the next challenge and improvement.

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Thank you to Sue Threader and Kate Castle for the exclusive interview and for the stories behind the bridge. Congratulations once again on winning the 2021 Bridgehunter Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and to Kate Castle for Lifetime Achievement. 🙂

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Before ending this article, I would like to present you with a small clip of the bridge and the restoration project. While this was released in 2020, it will show you all the aspects of the project, as well as provide you with an overview of the bridge from ariel to ground view. Enjoy!

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An Interview with Clark Vance

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In 2011 at the Historic Bridge Convention in Missouri, I had a chance to meet Clark Vance in person and found him to be open-minded in many aspects, but having knowledge that is enriched for historic bridges, and other artefacts. Mr. Vance just recently retired from his position as high school teacher, but has been a key contributor of historic bridges for bridgehunter.com for as long as the website has existed, providing readers with photos and interesting facts on historic bridges, mainly in the Midwestern part of the US, centering around the states of Kansas and Missouri. Because of his contributions to historic bridges- as a photographer, historian and sometimes consultant- Mr. Vance won the Ammann Awards for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.

I had a chance to interview him recently about his interests in the topic and found some more interesting facts about him, how his interest in historic bridges first started and some words of advice for those who are working in the field of historic bridges, in terms of photography and preservation. This is what I learned from him, as you read the interview:

 

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  1. Tell us more about yourself in terms of professional and private life.

I recently retired from 11 years of teaching engineering, math, and software engineering to high school students. I previously worked in IT and automotive technology. I still enjoy working with and driving my (too many) cars and motorcycles. My wife is a psychologist in private practice and her daughter is a professor at an art and design school. I highly recommend being retired.

 

  1. What got you interested in historic bridges?

My father was a civil engineer with the Kansas Highway Department in the late ‘40s before going to work as a structural engineer in private industry. He didn’t mind my gazillion “What’s that?” questions as a kid and actually had the knowledge to answer a lot of them, particularly about man made artifacts in the natural environment. My curiosity about infrastructure was rewarded with good explanations of whatever odd item caught my attention. Some of my best times as a kid were when he and I would visit road construction sites and he would answer all my questions then add information about things I hadn’t noticed.

 

  1. You do mostly bridge photography, right? Or do you write or talk about them?

My main public activity surrounding bridges is as a contributor to BridgeHunter.com. I’ve enjoyed old maps as a way to see into the past and discover things that are unused and forgotten. My enjoyment of driving back roads and hiking fit with this, and BridgeHunter gave me an excuse to photograph the things I found. I don’t consider myself a bridge expert or historian and I try to avoid spending too much time talking with others about bridges lest they consider me odd(er).

 

  1. Do you teach historic bridges in school? If so, how?

I didn’t get a chance to teach the second year class where we taught truss analysis, so my role as an educator was mostly as an informal consultant for the students working on entries to bridge building competitions. I taught an intro civil class where I got to cover infrastructure and of course I exposed my students to a lot of structural history using bridges. I hope they came to appreciate the significance of structures that their later instructors will possibly dismiss as obsolete.

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  1. What kind of historic bridges do you look for?

Although I enjoy simply documenting older existing structures, my greatest enjoyment comes from locating and documenting bridges that have been forgotten. Most of the time there is little left physically but I like to record the location and identify any visible remnants. Kansas City still has places where one can see the paths worn by the wagons heading out on the Santa Fe Trail. For whatever reason, I feel it’s important for people to remember the paths used in the past.

 

  1. A historic bridge in your opinion is…….

Defining what constitutes an historic bridge is similar to identifying an historic car. Anything old enough is worth preserving, and the more important it was when new, the more significant when old. Even the plainest, cheapest Model T should not be scrapped if it’s possible to preserve it. A Cadillac V-16 is obviously more rare and more worthy of preservation. From the perspective of the people trying to use objects in the economy, is would be foolish and wasteful to try to run a fleet of Model T taxis and it’s equally foolish to expect a tall, narrow pony truss to carry a combine or loaded grain trailer. It’s fun to drive old cars across the Chain of Rocks bridge but trying to keep it as part of the interstate system makes no sense.

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Chain of Rocks Bridge. Photo taken by Jason Smith in 2011

 

  1. What is your favorite historic bridge?

Picking favorites is difficult. Friends and I would walk out on the Chain of Rocks bridge not long after it closed. I haven’t been back since it got cleaned up but I imagine it’s still pretty spectacular. As a kid my family would visit relatives in southeast Kansas and I have a long standing love for the Marsh arches. I also enjoyed driving the old Flagler railroad bridges linking the Florida Keys back in the ‘70s.

 

  1. What historic bridge(s) do you miss the most?

Probably the bridges I miss most are: The Chouteau Bridge in KC. Totally obsolete and awful for trucks and cars alike, it was nonetheless an important bridge when built and quite impressive an an old, still functioning work. The ASB automobile lanes were narrow and had a reputation for fatal accidents where the lanes split to go around the trusses. For better or worse, one could have a close look at the structure and mechanism while driving by. More generally, I miss the many through trusses that were everywhere when I began traveling and which have almost all been replaced by much more efficient boring bridges guaranteed to keep concrete plants busy repairing and replacing them.

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  1.  What words of advice do you have for the following:

 

Photographing Historic Bridges: Get the big picture and the little details. Show the setting and what one would see driving by or passing under. Also, catch the details that can help identify the builder, date, and other parts of the history.

Teaching about Historic Bridges: I wish I had more knowledge about this. I found that I could engage students by providing some of the history behind modern concepts. Bridges played an important role in the development of engineering as a field, so I tried to cover bridge technology in discussions about changes brought about by developments in material science, structural analysis methods, etc.

Preserving Historic Bridges: Two things strike me as most important, public support and technical skills. Right now old bridges are in a place similar to steam locomotives in the ‘50s. They are being phased out and replaced by products deemed superior by policy makers. I don’t think there is much hope of their remaining in common use. The focus needs to be on finding ways to save them from being scrapped and preserving the knowledge needed to put them back in limited use when more of the public has the desire to experience the old technology. Each one lost will make the remaining ones more valuable and more likely to be saved.

 

Thank you for your time, Clark and wishing you all the best in your endeavors. J

 

The next question is who will win the now rebranded Bridgehunter Awards in the category Lifetime Achievement? If you haven’t voted yet, click here and you will be directed to the ballot. Deadline is January 10th and the winner will be announced two days later.

 

Note: Photos posted  but not cited here are all courtesy of Clark Vance.

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Interview With Amy Squitieri

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Philippi Covered Bridge in West Virgina

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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