Thought of the Day: Maintenance is Preservation


This photo was taken by fellow pontist Will Truax which needs no explanation. This sign can be found at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, which is a National Historical Site. Albeit not a historic bridge, you can find our more about its history here. This saying applies to all historic places, inlcuding bridges, something that we seem to forget nowadays, in the age of modernization and waste.

Some Food for Thought! 🙂




Thought of the Day: Maintenance Is Preservation


This photo was taken by fellow pontist Will Truax which needs no explanation. This sign can be found at the Springfield Armory in Massachusetts, which is a National Historical Site. Albeit not a historic bridge, you can find our more about its history here. This saying applies to all historic places, inlcuding bridges, something that we seem to forget nowadays, in the age of modernization and waste.

Some Food for Thought! 🙂




Route 66 Gasconade River Bridge


The Gasconade River in Missouri: once populated with dozens of metal truss bridges loaded with history and charm, the river that flows past Wright, LeClare and Gasconade Counties now only has one bridge left. This bridge, built in 1924, used to carry the Mother Highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 (officially, US Hwy. 66). Sadly, this bridge is now the poster boy of how a state, like Missouri, has neglected its bridges, both modern and historic, and does not have the money to even maintain them.

Since December 2014, the Missouri Department of Transportation has closed this key crossing near Hazelgreen, despite its historic significance and its role in the development of Route 66. The bridge features three through truss spans and a pony span, going from far to near in the picture above: one Warren through truss, two Parker through trusses, one Warren pony and one beam approach, all totaling 524 feet in length, and all connections are riveted. The closure has sparked an outcry among locals, bridge enthusiasts and friends of Route 66 to a point where a rally took place back in March, drawing in as many as 300 attendants. The main objective is to put pressure on the State Legislature to provide funding to repair the deficiencies on the bridge and reopen it to traffic. Given the sparse amount of traffic on the bridge in comparison with the neighboring I-44 Bridge, located only 500 feet away.  Information and a video of the event which includes speeches, can be seen by clicking here.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles had a chance to sit down and chat with one of the members of the Gasconade River Bridge group and Friends of Route 66, Roamin Rich, who spoke at the Rally, to find out what ideas they have to convince lawmakers at Jefferson City (Missouri’s state capital) that the bridge is a vital part of the highway’s history and should be reopened. Here’s what he has to say:

1. How significant is the bridge?

The bridge is significant in all facets.  It is a major thoroughfare for local traffic.  People in the community, farmers, emergency responders all depend on this bridge.  There are several farmers in the area that own land on both sides of the river.  They are forced to make a 12 mile detour now because of the bridge closure.  Before the closure this section of Highway (also historic Route 66) was being utilized as an incident bypass route.  So if traffic on I44 shut down, they would divert traffic across this section of road and the Gasconade Bridge.

2. What’s the history behind building the bridge?

I don’t know the history behind building the bridge other than it occurred around 1922-23.  It is unique in the fact that is constructed of 3 different types of truss designs.  (See author’s description above in the introduction)

3. What’s the current situation on the bridge- are there plans to demolish it?

The current situation is indefinite.  There is absolutely no money at all set aside for doing anything with this bridge.  I seriously don’t think they are going to demolish it even when they do come up with funding.  In talking with the chief engineer with MoDot I don’t think they want to mess with repairing it either.  A bypass bridge looks like their preferred choice.

4. How do you want to save the bridge- as a pedestrian bridge or by rehabilitation?

We would like to save the bridge no matter what happens.  We would like to see it put back into service but we are willing to accept any plan that ultimately prevents the destruction of the bridge.

5. How are you approaching the plan as far as fund-raising, etc. are concerned?

Right now we are hashing out ideas to raise funds to pay for an independent inspection of the bridge.  We have formed an official committee and plan to meet within the next 10 days.  We aren’t sure how we are going to raise funds at the moment.

6. How much money is needed to preserve the bridge?

Until our independent study is concluded we do not know how much money is needed to restore the bridge.  We are guessing between 1.5 – 3 million dollars.

7. When would you like to see the bridge reopened?

We would like the bridge to be reopened within the next 24 months.  Earlier is better, but we are being realistic.  The state has slashed highway budgets drastically.  It’s going to take a literal act of Congress to get something done.

The irony behind the interview is the fact that MoDOT is trying to cut corners by putting in a replacement bridge at any cost, which would bypass the historic bridge. Yet the envision behind the draconian replace instead of repair is that money is needed to maintain that bridge as well. Without the maintenance, the lifespan of the structure is cut in half. Therefore repairing the bridges only prolongs their lives up up to 50 years, enough time for the state legislature to garner enough funds to either overhaul the original structure or even replace it with a newer structure that has a functional and structural appeal. However, with the state cutting funding, the mentality is to let the bridges fall apart until replacement is the lone option. This is figuratively slitting their wrists and the blood of greenbacks is leaving the body in droves.  But if there is one message to give to the state through this rally it is this: This way of thinking has to change, and priorities have to change. That means fixing the bridges and restoring them have more priority than the slash and burn approach, which is costing more money than necessary. And with that, our history slips away into the books, something our society has longed ignored.

While the fundraising is in its infant stage, you can help preserve the Gasconade River Route 66 Bridge. You can click on the link in the article, where you’ll be in the Route 66 News page. Yet the group has a facebook page, which you can click here and like to join. There you can share your ideas with other members and help in saving the bridge. As mentioned above, bypassing the bridge seems to be the option, yet fixing a bridge that is only used locally would serve in everyone’s best interest. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving the bridge.

Enjoy the pics taken by Roamin Rich of the bridge and the Rally:

Gasconade 4

Gasconade 2

Gasconade 3

bhc new logo jpeg

Book/Documentary of the Month: A Tour of the Rhine in NRW

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Hollernzollern Bridge at Cologne. Cologne and the River Rhine Region in NRW won the Bridge Tour Guide Award for 2013. Photo taken in March 2010

There are many ways to write a book on bridges, let alone do a documentary for a TV program. One can focus on one bridge and its history, but that is more for locals who are closely attached to the bridge. One can focus on a region with a handful of bridges, like writing about bridges in a county or district. Again, the main focus would be the locals, but it would draw some attention from other bridge enthusiasts. As the region gets bigger, so do the number of people who are closely tied to the bridges, and the people from outside who are interested in these sturctures.

However, if you want to focus on bridges along the river, like we have here along the Rhine River, this is where one has to be walk a fine line. While documentaries like the one televised by German Public TV Station WDR can draw hundreds of thousands of viewers to the region, one has to be careful that the people do not become bored with each and every single bridge that is documented and told in the language that everyone can simply understand. This does not mean that it is impossible to talk about a tour of bridges along the rivers. The problem is when the length of the rivers are longer and there are more crossings, then one really needs to divide the project into segments dealing with region, history and in a certain degree, importance to the community.

One of the most successful projects is a two-volume book written by a former Iowa teacher, Mary Costello, on the bridges of the Mississippi River. Her book featured sketches of bridges she drew while on tour and some history to each one, yet it was divided unto the bridges along the Lower Mississippi (Gulf of Mexico to Iowa) and the Upper Mississippi (Iowa to Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river began). But what about another long river, the Rhine River?

The Ludendorff-Brücke at Remagen after American troops conquered the Rhine Region in March, 1945. It collapsed two months later. Photo taken by unknown soldier, credit to US goovernment as public domain

For 1200 kilometers (or 760 miles), the Rhine starts in the Swiss Canton of Grisons in the southeastern part of Switzerland in the Alpine region and makes its way north, forming borders with Liechtenstein and Austria before entering Lake Constance and forming the border with Germany. After Basel, the river creates a border between the Bundesrepublik and France before flowing into Germany after Karlsruhe. After passing through Mannheim, Mainz, and Frankfurt, the river creates a deep gorge which slithers its way from Bingen to Bonn and later through the industrial metropolises of Duesseldorf, Cologne and Leverkusen.  After turning west from there, it enters the Netherlands, where after passing through Rotterdam and Utrecht, it creates a delta where the river empties into the North Sea near Katwijk.  Nearly 100 bridges cross the Rhine, half of them in Germany. Each of them has a history of its own, not only in terms of its design and construction, but also its involvement in history.

When WDR (an arm of Berlin-based German public TV channel ARD with its branch office in Cologne) produced the two-part documentary on the Rhine River crossings in 2010, it was aware of the fact that it had to narrow its focus to only a few bridges, for each one had its own personal history to it, and the broadcasters there were aware that they could not afford to lose their audience with too many bridges, nor get into conflict with other German public TV stations who could benefit from this experience, like HR, which covers Hesse and Rheinland Palatinate and SWR, which covers the Saarland and Baden Wurttemberg. Therefore, WDR focused its bridge documentary on just the bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, covering the bridges of Cologne, Duesseldorf and Duisburg.

The End Result?

A two part series where the first part focuses on the historical aspect. The story there starts in 1945 where the Nazis, in a desparate attempt to fend off the Allied Troops that were enchroaching the country, blew up any bridges along the Rhine that were not destroyed. Yet the mission was unsuccessful because of one of the last standing bridges at Remagen, the Ludendorff Railway Bridge, which the Americans captured on 7 March, 1945. Yet the bridge collapsed 10 days later but not before the troops constructed the bridge heads on both sides of the Rhine so that they could construct a pontoon bridge in its place. The original bridge heads were kept in place and is now a memorial.

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Hollernzollernbruecke and Cathedral in Cologne Photo taken in March 2010

The bridges laid in ruins together with the cities that were bombed out. Yet, one bridge, the Hollernzollern Bridge was rebuilt, using the through arch spans that were bombed off the piers and were sitting in the Rhine. Originally consisting of two three-span arch bridges, an additional one was added in the 1950s and today is the key link for trains travelling to Frankfurt and points to the east of Cologne Central Station. The Bridge serves as a symbol of love, as the railings are covered with padlocks with signs of love written all over them. Legend has it when lovers meet, the padlock was locked on the fenced railing with the keys thrown into the Rhine.

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Love locks on the Hollernzollern Bridge

But the first part also featured a tour of the bridges, inspected by the city engineer on a regular basis to determine how stable the structure is and what repairs are recommended. Marc Neumann, the city engineer serving Cologne provided a tour of the inside portion of the Zoo Bridge in Cologne, one of the most heavily traveled vehicular bridges in Cologne that was built in 1962 and is a box girder bridge, the first built in Germany at that time. Other highway bridges in Cologne have dealt with problems with increased traffic and the city has desperately tried to keep up the pace by constant maintenance of the bridge, as shown with the Severin Bridge, a cable-stayed suspension bridge that was the first post-war modern bridge built over the Rhine in Cologne. The 1959 structure was the focus of structural issues with its stayed cables, which needed to be replaced with the rest of the bridge being painted lime green afterwards. The purpose: to protect the bridge from the salt and other debris that have a potential to make the bridge rust and corrode.

Oberkasseler Brücke in Dusseldorf  Photo taken by V. Janssen

The second part of the series focused on other bridges in the state. Apart from the ones at Remagen, there were many cable-stayed and steel arch bridges that were mentioned in the documentary. While the Theodore Heuss Bridge, built in 1957, was the first cable-stayed suspension bridge built in Germany, there are two bridges are worth mentioning: The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg and the Oberkasseler Bridge in Duesseldorf. The Oberkasseler Bridge was built in 1973 replacing an ornamental arch bridge built in 1909 that was structurally deficient. The bridge was built alongside the old structure on the south end and after the old bridge was razed, the entire cable-stayed bridge featuring a set of towers planted in the middle of the roadway, was moved 47.5 meters to the original location of the 1909 bridge, a feat unimaginable for a bridge of that size and length, at 617 meters.  The Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg was built in 1950 replacing a similar bridge built in 1936. Yet the name stamms from a group of protesters who blocked traffic to the bridge to protest the closing of a steel plant nearby. From 10 December, 1987 until 20 January, 1988 the workers walked the picket line on the bridge and the nearby company they had worked, resulting in the state government discussing about the crisis in the steel industry and the bridge being renamed at the request of the protesters. A unique action that one can rarely see today unless one is in southern Europe protesting the European Union’s bailout package with the conditions, as seen in Spain, Greece and Cypern.

Bridge of Solidarity in Duisburg. Attribution: © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons) 

The Rhine Bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia are unique in a way that one has to go beyond the appearance of each structure to look at its history, how they were built and rebuilt, and how they are integrated into the lives of the people today. While focusing on safety and history were the key elements of the document series, the report also looked at how the people and their bridges go together, whether it is a person living inside a bridge or if there are musicians performing inside or underneath the bridge- both were found at Zoo Bridge in Cologne. The Rhine bridges in North Rhine-Westphalia, once a pile a rubble because of the war, are now a part of the lives of the residents who use it regularly to get from point A to point B. And even if we are in the post-modern era where sleek modern designs dominate the land and cityscapes, the memories of the bridges, how they looked like in the past and how they look like now will remain in their memories for generations to come.

With this in mind, I would like to close with a couple questions for the forum, and for those interested in producing a thorough and history and culturally enriched documentary similar to what was produced by WDR on the Rhine Bridges of North Rhine-Westphalia. The documentary covered many key points that were important for people to know about bridges, infrastructure, safety, culture and history, giving them some interest and perhaps an incentive to pursue something that is similar to what was shown on TV. But the questions posed here are something different from what was profiled here. Keeping the documentary in mind:

1. How would you do a documentary on bridges along the river? Would you chop the river up into segments or keep it the same? Which aspects would you include?

2. When looking at the documentaries enclosed below (in German), what is your opinion of the documentary? What words of advice would you give to people wanting to do what WDR did with the Rhine? This applies not only to the Rhine itself but other rivers.

3. Which other rivers would you imagine doing a documentary on apart from the Rhine and Mississippi Rivers?


Rhein River Crossings to see (in NRW):

Ludendorff Bridge

Severin Bridge

Hollernzollern Bridge

Zoo Bridge

Theodor-Heuss Bridge

Bridge of Solidarity

Oberkasseler Bridge

Griethausen Railway Bridge

These are the bridges mentioned in the TV documentary. There are dozens of others that were not mentioned but should be visited. Please click on the Rhine River Crossings for more details.









1 August, 2007 Five Years Later Part II: Reactions to the Bridge Disaster and the Changes that occurred afterwards.

Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010


Over the past week, there have been some extensive news coverage on the I-35W Bridge Disaster and the changes that we have seen in our policies for improving America’s infrastructure, not only in terms of replacing or repairing bridges that are structurally deficient, but also preserving the vintage structures that have a life after its service on the roadways. I too have collected some stories and comments from many people who are closely connected to the topic regardless of area of discipline they come from (engineering, media, etc.) The second part of the series features these comments and stories for you to read and mull over. This will offer you a chance to agree or disagree with the statements, as well as offer praises and suggestions for years to come. If you wish to view my thoughts on this story, please click here.

We start off with an official statement that was made by Transportation Commissioner Thomas K. Sorel, which made it to the newspapers all over the state of Minnesota:

On Aug. 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W Bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, a day that Minnesotans will never forget. Today marks the fifth anniversary of this unspeakable tragedy, which took the lives of 13 people, and left the lives of those who survived, forever changed.  The collapse had a significant effect on all Minnesotans. It also had a dramatic effect on the way in which we care for and manage the state’s transportation infrastructure.  

Since 2007, MnDOT has increased bridge maintenance staff and modified our inspection efforts to ensure that bridges with maintenance needs are identified and repaired in a timely fashion. We have developed a system in which we integrate bridge inspection information and maintenance work. This allows us to plan and prioritize our maintenance needs as well as document and assess the benefit of the work.  

We’ve changed our approach in building bridges by implementing a formal bridge design peer review process. MnDOT now hires separate engineering firms to review bridge designs, a step that is intended to minimize the risk of a critical design error like the one that caused the I-35W Bridge to fail.  We’ve also changed policies regarding storage of material on bridges under construction to ensure that the structure is not overloaded.  

We also worked hard to replace the I-35W Bridge with a new structure, built it in record time, using innovative contracting and building techniques. The result is a strong and stable structure that will serve the state for a century. And the lessons learned constructing that bridge will be used on other structures in Minnesota as well as around the nation.

Minnesota has made great strides in reducing the number of deficient state bridges through an improvement program funded by the 2008 State Legislature. That program has identified 120 bridges on the state system that need repair or replacement by 2018. To date, 65 of those bridges have been done, and another 12 will be completed by the end of the year. And the program is on track to meet its completion goals by 2018.

MnDOT is also focusing on innovation and looking beyond 2018 in how to fund and manage transportation infrastructure. The department is now using enterprise risk management to determine what, how and when we will work on the transportation system. We fold in quality of life research and sustainability considerations to ensure that the work that we do will sustain or improve transportation users’ quality of life efficiently and effectively.

Today it is important to reflect on and remember the tragic events of Aug. 1, 2007.  It is also important to look to the future, and continue our commitment to build a safe, dependable, high-quality transportation system through innovation, integrity and accountability. 

As I mentioned in my article from yesterday, the tragedy paved the way for improvements in technology designed to identify the flaws in each of the bridges and deal with them before we deal with the loss of lives. This also includes advance repairing methods designed to fix the areas in dire need without having to replace the entire bridge, which is most of the time more expensive than making the simple repairs to prolong their lifespan. This quote from Julie Bowers in a documentary on the restoration of the Piano Bridge says it all:

Engineering is a science that understands the variables and then addresses those in a systematic thoughtful way. What happened in Minnesota was a tragedy no one can say otherwise but there were a lot of circumstantial and compounding variable that led to that and there are truss bridges all over the world that will be continue to be successful. Here in Texas we take that opportunity to learn from that lesson and the loss of those lives to make sure that we are continuing to improve our inspection techniques our monitoring process to make sure that we never have that type of compounding of variables replicated into a tragic situation here. And this is the appropriate in my opinion direction to take to learn from that tragedy and make sure that you don’t replicate those circumstances in the future but not have some knee jerk hyperbole reaction to that.

Waterford Bridge: Awaiting a new abutment and decking before its reincorporation into a bike trail. Photo taken in August 2011

But Minnesota, like many other states in the country, also take care that this process of repairing and replacing bridges does not come at the expense of historic bridges. At least three dozen of the state’s historic bridges have been under the loop and most of them have been preserved for future generations, with more of them scheduled to be rehabilitated and reused for recreational purposes in the coming five years, like the Waterford Bridge south of Hastings and the Stillwater Lift Bridge.  This type of work is not necessarily a chore or a must, as John Barton of the Texas Department of Transportation explained in an interview with Julie Bowers while taping a documentary of the restoration of the Piano Bridge in Texas:

We consider it a privilege (….) to be a part of preserving this part of our history. We are in the transportation business and we take that responsibility very seriously and we feel blessed and honored to do that on behalf of the citizens of (….) the United States of America. Having the chance and opportunity to preserve these historic bridge structures. is something that we cherish so it is a labor of love for the staff that are involved in it, and it is a responsibility all of our engineering staff understand and shoulder proudly so the opportunity for us to be involved in that is something we are very proud of and appreciate very much. As time goes on and generations follow us, we fall back on that old story about the old bridge builder across a cavern and someone asked why he was doing it because he would probably never benefit greatly from it personally and he said he was building it for those that followed him. And that is our opportunity for us to preserve what has been built for those that will follow us. So we take it with a great deal of pride and we appreciate those that have a passion about doing that as well.

And finally, the media has taken this topic rather seriously when addressing on the one hand, bridges that are dangerously close to collapsing or have collapsed because of a lack of maintenance, but on the other hand, addressing the bridges that need to be restored, thus involving the people more than ever before. According to Kari Lucin of the Jamestown (ND) Sun, this phenomenon has its roots in watching the bridge disaster in Minneapolis unfold:

Before the bridge collapse I took bridges very much for granted. I used to go over the I-35 bridge pretty often during the four years I attended Augsburg College, and I never once entertained the thought it might not be entirely safe. Not once. When the thing collapsed I stayed glued to my TV set to the extent that I very nearly forgot to pay my monthly rent. And yes, I was one of many people who called relatives and friends to make sure they hadn’t been driving across when it fell, clogging up the phone lines. It was shocking. And after that, people took reports of bridge structural issues much more seriously.

And yes, were we glued to the tube and to the horn when all of this happened. I remember a comment mentioned by an official at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation during an e-mail correspondence prior to the disaster, which stated that many people are more concerned with getting from point A to point B without any regard to the bridges, let alone the historic bridges that have been disregarded and discarded into a heap of scrap metal. She was right, except since the tragedy, we have become more aware of what we are crossing and what we want to preserve because of the historic value that is useful for everyone to see.

Stillwater Lift Bridge: One of many bridges receiving the most media attention. This bridge is to become a bike/pedestrian bridge once the new bridge built south of Stillwater is open to traffic. Photo taken in 2009

We will still have people who ignore the plea of others and disobey weight and height restrictions and try to have things their way with a new bridge, but we have more people now that are aware of the value of these wonderful structures, and are willing to make them safe but appealing to others. And this includes preserving what is left of our past for the future to come.



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

Taken by Bradley Widding; used with permission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fryer’s Road Bridge:

Frenchmans Bluff Bridge:

Blood Run Creek Bridge:

Brewster Bridge:

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

The Flensburg Files Column on the Flensburg Point System:

Made of Steel: The Bridges of Pennsylvania and their dire state

Walking through the tunnel of trusses on the Donora-Webster Bridge- Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

The Donora-Webster Bridge ober the Monongahela River in Washington County, Pennsylvania.  Walking across the bridge during a bridgehunting tour in Pennslyvania, I was awed by the beauty of the structure as it stood at least 20 feet tall above the water. Its grey color matched the color of the landscape, which had a mixture of green vegetation, brown to light-colored houses, and a dark aqua color of the Monongahela River, as it meanders its way towards Pittsburgh to join the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. This bridge had a unique design as all but one span consisted of a Parker through truss design. The lone span, which was also the center span, consisted of a Pennsylvania Petit design, with a span of almost 600 feet. And the portal bracings, the entrance to a through truss bridge, are different between the main span and the other four spans, but both were unique and worth looking at as a tourist. Sadly however, this bridge is slated for demolition within the next 3 years as structural concerns have prompted its closure. However, looking at the bridge more closely, one can assume that due to the fact that if a bridge could not carry vehicular traffic anymore that it would be at least converted to pedestrian and cyclar traffic, right?

Not in the eyes of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the state legislation, as both agencies have been taking proactive steps towards demolishing and replacing any bridges that are 70 years of age and older as well as those considered structurally deficient, meaning that they are unable to handle the increasing amount of traffic on a daily basis. In the past 10 years, about 60% of the bridges that were built of iron and/or steel and belong into the aforementioned categories have met the wrecking ball with many more yet to come. Most of them were built using a truss or cantilever truss design (a description of the two can be found in the link in the education section of the front page).  The hardest hit areas are in the western and northern sections of the state where these gems of American history are located in sparsely populated areas but are most prone to demolition. There 70% of the bridges have been lost since 2003. This includes not only simple span truss bridges with ornamental truss designs like the Kreitz Road Bridge in Crawford County and the Tunnelton Bridge in Indiana County (both in 2010), but also multiple span bridges such as the Ulster Bridge in Bradford County (2007) and the Shanley Road Bridge in Elk County (2004), and rarities, like the Foxburg Bridge in Clarion County (2008). And more are yet to come as the campaign to replace these rarities with sturdier structures will continue until every bridge has a new structure. Unfortunately, the structures that replace these unique bridges consist of mainly concrete bridges that are mudane and many times do not conform with the landscape provided by the communities they used to serve. And to add insult to injury, these multi-million dollar projects come at the cost of the common person’s billfold.

The Foxburg Bridge as the lone double-decker Warren truss bridge. Built in 1921, the railroad served the upper deck while the bottom deck functioned as a roadway. Demolished in 2008 to make room for the replacement bridge’s sidewalk. Photo courtesy of Nathan Holth and Historic Used with permission

This alarming trend has led to a pair of questions that have to this day not been answered: 1. What factors are leading to this rapid demise of these historic bridges  and 2. Are there measures that can be taken to halt this trend and preserve what is left to be preserved?

It is no secret that if one compares the US infrastructure to that of many countries in Europe (including Germany where the author is residing) that the quality of the infrastructure, in particular the bridges is far better in Europe than in America. In fact, recent reports by the American Society of Civil Engineers rated the American infrastructure as a grade D. The bridges were given a grade of a C, the second highest result behind waste treatment (with a C+). This means that despite improvements in the repairs and replacement of many structurally deficient bridges, there are still tens of thousands left to pay attention to. Of these, Pennsylvania leads the nation with as many as 6,000 structurally deficient bridges out of the 31,600 bridges that exist in the state, even though initiatives have been carried out by Governor Ed Rendell to invest as much as $500- 700 million annually in bridge projects.  Pennsylvania has one of the most rigorous bridge inspection programs in the country where each bridge is inspected biannually, with the structurally deficient ones being examined more often to monitor any further deterioration. Bridges considered structurally deficient are closed and are either repaired or replaced at the earliest possible convenience. Unfortunately, many of the bridges affected by this thorough inspection happen to be truss and cantilever bridges whose average lifespan on the roadways can range from 60 years to 120 years. Despite attempts by PennDOT to market these bridges to interested parties, these attempts have failed to bear fruit and subsequentially they are replaced. This is in part because of the lack of financial resources and interest in purchasing the bridges, although the last bridge purchased in Pennsylvania- a pony truss bridge- was eventually relocated to neighboring Delaware, a deal that was finalized in May of this year. This rapid decline in historic bridges leads to the next question of the possibility of leaving the historic bridge to stand while the new structure built right next to it serves regular traffic. While such practices can be seen in places like Iowa, Tenessee, Michigan, and Texas (just to name a few), laws in Pennsylvania dating back to 1966 literally forbid such practices and puts the liability of such property on those interested in purchasing them, resulting in the withdrawl in the party’s interest in buying the historic bridge. This contributed greatly to the demise of many bridges affected, such as the Shanley Road, Tunnelton, and Ulster Bridges, respectively.

Despite attempts of cooperating between both sides of the spectrum, the issue of the historic bridges has become a focus of debate as many have taken sides and pointed fingers at each other. Those wanting to see the rest of the historic bridges saved have accused PennDOT of having poor preservation policies and historic bridge marketing practices, ranking it as the worst in the country. On the other side of the spectrum, legislators and PennDOT officials have attacked the historic bridge mitigation policies in connection with Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act and the mandated environmental impact surveys claiming that they are delaying the replacement process. One Pennsylvania Senator, Barry Stout even went as far as retorting the historic bridge preservationists and stated that historic bridges are not meant for museum displays, while at the same time, claimed that the delays in replacing the bridges because of the Section 106 process is costing money and time and opposes such procedures. This was in response to two bridges that are slated for replacement in the next year, the Donora-Webster and the Chareloi-Monessen Bridges.

If there are dark sides to historic bridge preservation policies in Pennsylvania, there is almost a guarantee that there is a ray of light that might not only steer the course that has been taken by PennDOT and other agencies, but also bring the sides together to collaborate on this topic and save what is left of the historic bridges in Pennsylvania. Already, many large cities in the state have taken vast efforts to preserve and maintain their historic bridges not only to be used for recreational purposes but also for vehicular traffic. For instance, the 1860 Walnut Street Bridge in Northhampton County, the oldest surviving cast iron through truss bridge in the country, was reincorporated into a bike trail after years of rehabilitation and now serves as a link to Lehigh University. The Walnut Street Bridge over the Sushquehanna River in Harrisburg (the state’s capital) was convertedto pedestrian traffic and was even rebuilt after flooding took out the eastern spans in 2006. Many of Pittsburgh’s bridges have been refurbished and are now serving traffic again. This includes the Hot Metal Bridge over the Monogahela River, which used to be a a pair of railroad bridges before being converted into a roadway bridge for one span and a bike trail bridge for the span next to it.

Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh- Photo taken by Jason D. Smith

The latest attempt at trying to preserve a historic bridge is converting it into a park. This is actually being done with the Quaker Bridge in Mercer County. Spearheaded by Nathan Clark, the 1898 bridge was bypassed by a new bridge in 2006. Despite some legal entanglements, Clark hopes to have sole possession of the bridge in which it will be converted to a park, providing the tourists with a splendid view of the Little Shenango River and a chance to do some picnicking on the Pratt through truss bridge. This bridge, together with the Meadville Bridge were the centerpieces of the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place this past August (for more information on the Meadville Bridge, please refer to the 11 October entry).

Nathan Clark talking about the Quaker Bridge to the pontists- photo taken by Jason D. Smith

Despite these steps that are being taken, it is not enough to stem the number of historic bridges that are being replaced with many more yet to follow in the next five years. Part of the problem with bridges that are 70 years and older is that there is not enough money and resources to maintain them, thus many of the structures are left to decay. The bridge types that are hardest hit are the metal truss and cantilever bridges and those built using steel and/or iron, as the wear and tear, combined with the weather extremities and the usage of salt and other materials have led to the rust and corrosion of the truss parts to a point of beyond repair, thus resulting in the need to replace the bridges. This applies to all crossings including the Greensburg Pike Bridge near Pittsburgh, where rust and corrosion on the superstructure has prompted a request to replace the multiple-span through truss bridge.

But it is not that the people in Pennsylvania want to see the historic bridges disappear. While many feel that the bridge needs to be safe- especially in light of the bridge disaster in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 2 August, 2007- but many feel that maintaining the structures would not only make them safe but prolong their lives further. A survey conducted by the author for the Historic Bridge Conference in August reinforced this claim.  Comparing the attitudes between the Europeans and the Americans, studies show that 2/3 of the participants in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were of the opinion that a bridge must be safe but it also has to be maintained properly in order to make it safe.  Various sources have claimed that maintaining and rehabilitating historic bridges are more cost-effective than replacing them outright. However, many of the historic bridges today are no longer able to carry large amounts of traffic in terms of numbers and size and this has created a paralysis between maintaining what is there and replacing those that are deemed unsafe period. This is especially noticeable in Pennsylvania during a bridgehunting tour in August, as many bridges are decaying because of the lack of maintenance. With that plus the problem with the infrastructure itself because of many roads that are an average of 30 years old and are in dire need of a makeover, and dealing with the future of the historic bridges, the state is at risk of becoming not only a third world country, but also a battleground between those wanting to see the historic bridges replaced at any cost because of their structural obsoleteness and those who want to see at least some of the bridges preserved as a piece of American culture and history. And with this battle, we will see many more historic bridges fall prey to neglect and eventually the wrecking ball. When this happens, many people will shake their heads and wonder why this happened when it did, while others will try and salvage pieces of American history to show to others, as one can see in the photo below.

A souvenir to take home for show and tell- Photo by James Baughn; used with permission

To close, here is the answer to the riddle from last week: The sagging of one of the spans on the Venengo Veterans Memorial Bridge was clearly the result of a bent endpost and a roller which no longer functioned. A roller serves as an expension and contraction device on truss bridges and are ideal in extreme weather conditions. Because the roller no longer worked because of too much debris that could have been cleaned out, the only way the truss structure was able to contract and expand was through the superstructure itself.

Some helpful links:

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bridge Information Online:

Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission Online:

Historic Charloi-Monessen Bridge Online:

You can also find other bridges in this website with some info and commentaries by its author, Nathan Holth.

The author would like to thank Nathan Holth, Todd Wilson, and James Baughn for their help in the article, including the permission to use the photos.