BHC Newsflyer: 20 March, 2020

Padma Bridge in Bangladesh: One of many bridge projects on hold due to the Corona Virus. Photo taken by Afzalhossainbd / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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CORONA SPECIAL

Headlines:

Pennsylvania suspends all bridge building projects
International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie. Photo taken by Mark Yurina in 2018
Michigan no longer accepting cash at toll bridges
Stillwater Lift Bridge. Photo taken in 2009
Reopening Celebrations at Stillwater Lift Bridge Delayed
Opening of Dublin Suspension Bridge Delayed
Sagar Bridge over the Neisse. Photo by Tnemtsoni / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Traffic Jam causes problems for Oder-Neisse River crossings
Virus Delays Construction of Zuari Bridge in India
Peljesac Bridge under construction. Photo by: Ma▀▄Ga / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Delays in China-Partnership Bridge Projects in Croatia and Bangladesh
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Photo taken in 2011
Update on the Lindaunis-Schlei Bridge Replacement Project- bridge now closed to vehicular traffic.

 

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Paper Mill/Marshall Bridge: Rising from the Ashes- An Interview with Julie Bowers

 

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What is considered the impossible became the impossible. David never gave up on the notion of beating Goliath until it actually happened. Some heavily favorites can fall to the underdogs. All it takes is patience, preserverence, passion and persistence- the four Ps to success. Five if you want to include politics.

For Julie Bowers and the crew at Workin Bridges, those five Ps were needed plus some personnel with expertise and just as much of the five Ps to bring a bowstring arch bridge back from the rubble, resurrect the structure, restore it to its former glory and now, it’s being reused for recreation. That is the story behind the history of the Marshall Bostring Arch Bridge located now at the Auburn Heights Preserve in Delaware. It has gone by many names, but two come out as the most commonly used aside from its official name: the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge when it was in Iowa, and most recently, Paper Mills Bridge. The bridge has come a long way after it was destroyed by flooding in August 2009 at its original location in Poweshiek County, spanning the Skunk River. After it was pulled from the river and stored, efforts were undertaken to restore it, which included a long journey to its new home in Yorklyn, Delaware. The Odyssey came with a lot of challenges, as you will see in the interview I did with Julie Bowers before Christmas.  I wanted to find out how the 5 Ps played a role in bringing the bowstring arch bridge that is like a family to her and the crew who restored it back to life. Here’s how the story happened. Enjoy! 🙂

 

1. Tell us briefly about yourself and your role in restoring historic bridges. I’ve been doing this for ten years. I knew nothing about bridges or restoration or bureaucratic politics when our bridge was lost to the N. Skunk River. I did have a background in construction, architecture and databases and used that as a base to build on. I don’t give up and have been called stubborn. We could not do this without a lot of sacrifice by everyone that travels to save a bridge but mostly we couldn’t do it without Bach Steel and Nels Raynor and our board of directors, both current and past.

 

 

  1. In your opinion, how special is the Paper Mill Bridge (PMB) in terms of its history and personal association with it?

It was erected in 1883, built by the King Iron Bridge Company. We think it is from around 1878 production design based on the lacing in the vertical outriggers and the castings. The bridge of many names (Skunk River Bridge, Humpback Bridge, McDowell for a minute then McIntyre, then Paper Mill) now the Marshall Family Bridge, is the heart of the Auburn Heights Preserve in Yorklyn, Delaware. A public / private partnership to clean up zinc laden habitat, to rebuild old warehouses including the Paper Mill and to build a trail system using historic bridges. If we had not had this project we would not have saved our bridge. It was a lot more work after falling in the river but it will live on.

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  1. Prior to its relocation from Iowa to Delaware, the PMB was once known as the McIntyre Bridge. Tell us about the bridge in its original location.

The bridge was located on River Road over the N. Skunk River in SE Poweshiek County. Our family had ties to the area and found ourselves there often for fall and winter picnics. When I returned to Iowa in 2001, we restarted those picnics. It fit it’s location perfectly and was safely in a park until flooding pushed it off it’s piers.

 

  1. In 2010, floodwaters swept the bridge off its foundations and caused severe damage. Tell us more about it and how it influenced your decision to restore the bridge.

My daughter and I found the bridge on the Sunday following Friday the 13th. We heard later the county crews were pulling trees up river that were compromising a concrete span. They came on down river and the roots entangled with the cable railing and pushed the span off the piers. It was our bridge, my family had been tied to that place for generations and I got the call. What are you going to do? We started educating ourselves, making calls, and figuring out our options. Turns out, all we needed was Bach Steel at that time, before the bridge went down.

 

  1. What was the plan for restoring the McIntyre Bridge in its original place and why did it fail?

It was just decisions that let us keep trying to figure out how much it cost and how to find the funds. There were setbacks, grant rejections, a lot of them, but we persevered. Our first plan was research, we were referred to Vern Mesler and Nathan Holth and had them  come to Iowa. We raised $3000 for that consult.  The bridge was still up at that point. When the bridge fell we were told about Nels Raynor and we proceeded with Nels to pull the bridge from the river and to work with us on this bridge and others. My daughter, Laran Bowers is on the board now, has been for years and that makes sense. She was the one that found the bridge. Jaydine Good rounds out the board and we have about 5 advisors that we utilize all the time for their perspectives. We wrote grants to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), getting our County involved.

They subsequently reneged on their commitment to a TAP grant and we knew grants would never be our solution. When the county commissioners took back their backing, we knew that the solution was not going to be there and started looking. Flooding in August of 2009 changed everything from restoration plans to salvage, then restoration. No one ever decided not to save the bridge, it was always our number 1 priority through all of our efforts. We’ve educated a lot of folks on knowing the project before deciding to continue or not. We always knew our project costs from the beginning.

 

 Author’s Note: TAP stands for Transportation Alternative Program which focuses mainly on bridge rehabilitation/restoration instead of replacement.

 

6.  What happened to the McIntyre Bridge afterwards?

It went to Bach Steel for storage while we tried raising funds. Then we brought it back to Iowa because SHPO said we had moved the bridge out of Iowa. Then SHPO delisted the bridge because it was moved off it’s piers, they didn’t believe our scope and estimate, and the bridge was stored while we worked on other projects, became a contractor and tried earning funds rather than asking for funds.

 

Author’s Note: The bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s along with two dozen other bowstring arch bridges in Iowa. Because of its significance, grants were available to restore the bridge but only at its original location. The bridge can be delisted if it’s either altered beyond historic recognition, destroyed by natural disaster or demolition or moved to another location. Some exceptions do apply.

 

7. How and when did the opportunity to relocate and restore the McIntyre Bridge come about?

Nels Raynor and I worked with Project PATH at PennDOT with Kara Russell and Preservation Pennsylvania, providing scope and estimates on several bridges. Without that information it is very hard to sell a bridge in their program. That lead to a call from DNREC. McIntyre Bridge was certainly our choice although Nels would have preferred others that might not have had as much damage. It was a lot of work and the care that Derek and Lee and their crew put into the restoration was immense. There was twisting along the box chord but if you look close today, you will see very little distortion.

More on PATH: https://path.penndot.gov/

 

8. How was the bridge reconstructed?

Very carefully. It’s a bridge that will take pedestrians and we care. This is a bowstring truss. The eye-bars are connected with castings and pins to make the length  of the bridge and the verticals hit the eye-bars, connected with cast parts. The trusses were laid opposite to each other, so that they could be picked up nearly in place and then the lateral connections were put in. Miles of angle were welded together to make the vertical “star iron / cruciform posts that were beyond repair. This is what we call in-kind restoration which means if we have to recreate parts we do that.  The trusses required mending, heat straightening, pack rust removal and it took a long time to essentially rebuild our bridge. Nels did that for us because he said he would.

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9. Who were the actors involved in the restoration?

There were no actors involved. It took the expertise of Nels Raynor at Bach Steel along with his crew over years. It also took finding James Schiffer, P.E. Now he does some work for others but the original team of Workin Bridges was Nels, Jim and I. Derek and Lee Pung worked the most on the bridge, along with Nels son Brock and others that have learned iron working arts during this project.

10. What other factors led to the success in restoring the bridge?

Perseverance, not patience, and finding other work along the way, not just waiting around for grants and then deciding grants and donations aren’t enough. We started working the construction angle to have the funds to pay for overhead while some grants were pursued. Remember, you can’t do anything after the grant goes in. 6 months to wait for denial is no fun. As we went along we found more and more opportunities and we know what failure looks like. The board, under the direction of my father Dick Bowers, Gary Sanders, Diane Roth, Laran Bowers and now Jaydine Good have kept me pursuing the best outcome for our bridge and helping other people with their bridges.

 

11.  The bridge was renamed Paper Mill Bridge and later Marshall? Why was that? 

The Marshall Family owned the Paper Mill and the Mansion and a collection of vintage Stanley Steemers and other collectible vehicles. They donated this to the state parks system and DNREC wanted to honor the family by naming the bowstring after them. Marshall Family Bridge was dedicated last year while Mr. Marshall could be there.

 

12.  Paper Mill Bridge is now in Delaware, but there is talk of adding some bridges, a couple from Pennsylvania. Can you elaborate further on this?

Part of Project PATH was a pony truss bridge for sale that we added to the complement of bridges from York County, PA. The project criteria were to find bridges with different builders, types and ages from different states to complement the mills being restored. That bridge, now called Farm Lane, is a pony truss that we modified for strength and width with girders. We also widened it to allow for a pedestrian lane, and engineered it for vehicular traffic with a moveable railing if emergency or agricultural vehicles need to cross. Martin Road will become Snuff Mill. A pratt truss from Michigan has been restored and is being painted, awaiting installation at NVF.  Another large truss, the Portland Water Works bridge is in storage in Delaware for future installation after we purchased and transported it across country two years ago.

 

 13.     How would you theme the project, Saving the Paper Mill Bridge either as a title or in one sentence? The Skunk River Bridge Story – 1883 to present

 

14.   What future bridge restoration projects do you have on the agenda, especially the bowstring arch bridge, like the Paper Mill?

We are working on Watts Mill Road Bridge, a rare continuous pony truss, we have tried to take on Aetnaville Bridge in Wheeling as a restoration project knowing that $2.5 million could be useful for preservation. We saved the Springfield Des-Arc bridge in a new park, that was another bowstring. I think we are instrumental in Pennsylvania and Ohio utilizing Bach Steel to save bowstrings now. If they are the Kings of Kings, we know where that started. Any that we can find now will go into the “Bridge in a Box” sales program that we are developing. Of course we expanded on the Old Richardsville Bridge and are hopeful that the engineers will be required to work with us on the restoration needs. We found little to fix but the Kentucky Cabinet likes spending funds on local certified engineers, lots of money. We got the process started to showcase that it was much older and it will be preserved as a vehicular bridge. That took historical research from the bridge hunting community which was great to dial in the history that negated the NPS dates for NRHP.

 

 15. What words of advice would you give to those who are pursuing preserving and reusing a historic bridge, based on your personal experiences with this bridge?

It is always political. Find the economic benefits for the bridge to the local community. You can’t assume that they will take it on like Beaver County did with Watts Mill Road Bridge after it is reset. Engineers estimates are overly high so get another opinion. Engineers are asked specific questions by their clients that they answer – their answers don’t always look at preservation. For instance, the engineers estimate for Broadway Bridge in Frankfort assumes putting concrete back on it and doesn’t even consider planks or an engineered decking system. Some DOTS are really working hard at finding solutions, but we have to become competitive in selling a “Bridge in a Box – by Bach”  if we want to be competitive with those selling welded steel spans. Convincing and branding a membership driven “Workin'” non profit would create funds annually to help save bridges and other structures. We’ve looked into many ideas, some have merit, some do not. For now we do site visits that give real costs for restoration so that our clients can have enough information for good decisions to be made. We will be crafting more stories on video and perhaps a book on the McIntyre – we have footage of my father and other locals when we first started. We also have content on a lot of site visits that we will start to analyze and put out as well. Having a wonderful board that won’t let you give up even in the face of struggles is the secret. There will be struggles and set backs. Engineers want to build new bridges and cities don’t want the risks of old ones. We try to mitigate the risks.

It’s hard. We’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons as we pursued this. No good deed ever goes unpunished but there are a lot of great people and wonderful stories across the US. We saved our bridge but it took a lot out of all of us and it wasn’t the outcome we wanted but it was the best outcome for the bridge. Can’t wait to walk it again soon.

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Epilog: The Paper Mill/ Marshall Bridge has received a lot of national and international recognition after its reconstruction and re-erecting at its new home in Delaware, including the 2018 Ammann Awards for Best Example of a Restored Historic Bridge and Bridge of the Year, edging out the Blackfriar’s Bridge in Canada, whose design is similar to this bridge. While Blackfriar’s still retains the role of being the world’s longest of its kind, this bridge will definitely go down in the history books as one which was resurrected after a tragedy and is now being used again after years of hard work and lots of expertise. It sets the foundation for other historic bridge restorations that will come in the new decade, for they are becoming more important to save for future generations as the numbers dwindle due to progress and environmental disasters that are partly due to that progress. Progress is not welcomed unless we see some advantages in these. And as we learned this year with Greta Thunberg’s world tour, the environment will indeed be priority number one in our future plans for making things better. This is one of the projects that will benefit many.

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Hunter Station Bridge Imploded After Replacement Bridge Opens

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Oblique view. Photos taken by Nathan Holth in 2013

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OIL CITY, PA- Between through truss bridges which have an overhead chord and a deck truss, where the trusses are underneath the roadway, we have the half-through truss design. This consists of a truss bridge, whose roadway is wedged right in the middle of the truss itself. This means the truss can be seen both when driving by car on the road or boating underneath. Only a handful of These half-through truss bridges were constructed between 1880 and 1940, of which seven existed, including two with overhead bracings that cover the roadway, resembling a true through truss bridge.

Since October 4th of the year, that number has been reduced to one. The Hunter Station Bridge, a three-span Pratt half-through truss Bridge spanning the Allegheny River at US Highway 62 between Oil City and Lighthouse Island in Forrest County was dropped with explosives last week, two months after ist replacement span was open to traffic. The 1050-foot Long span was built in 1934 by P.I. Cox Construction Company featured a 30° skewed overhead chord with X-laced portal bracings encased in a C-beam form that can be seen as a beam portal upon entering the bridge. The strut bracings are all X-laced and uncovered. The roadway is wedged between the riveted trusses, even though a sidewalk existed on one side.  The structure was listed as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but it was not enough for the it to be saved, for years of neglect with rusted trusses and damages to concrete and steel railings led to PennDOT to replace the structure with the new span. Construction started last year and traffic shifted onto the new bridge in July, when it was completed to traffic.

With the Hunter Station Bridge now gone, only six half-through truss bridges exist in the US, 10 worldwide. This includes the Purdon Bridge near Nevada City, California, the last of ist Kind with an overhead chord. The pin-connected Pratt design, built in 1889 by Cotton Brothers Construction in Oakland is listed on the National Register and still in use today. Other half-through trusses in the US without the overhead trusses include the Nemadji Railroad Bridge in Wisconsin, Dearborn Bridge in Montana, Hadley Bow in New York and High Bridge in Indiana. It is unknown whether another half-through truss bridge in South Carolina exists according to information from bridgehunter.com.

 

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Link: http://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=truss/hunter/

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Hulton Bridge Brought Down by Explosives

Hulton Bridge Brought Down by Explosives

Oakmont loses historic icon via implosion amid protests.

PITTSBURGH/ OAKMONT- There are demolitions of historic buildings and bridges that are justified because of their derilect state and safety concerns. While options of rebuilding are viable, the removal of safety hazards with no options left are logical.  Then there are demolitions of these historic structures that defy logic and break barriers of resistance of locals and agencies wanting to save them because of their potential reuse.

For the Hulton Bridge, named after Jonathan Hulton, one of the first settlers of Oakmont, the demolition of the 1909 historic bridge not only defied logic, but also challenged Chuck Yeager’s sound barrier record in terms of opposition by locals, historians and preservationists.

The bridge was imploded today, dropping all but one of the five pinned connected through truss spans into the Allegheny River. This happened just three months after the opening of its replacement span to the north. Workers wasted no time removing the decking and setting the bridge up for the planned implosion, ignoring last minute pleas to save the bridge.

The plan to replace and then remove the historic bridge was a quick and systematic process, where despite its unique design and construction history, both the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the State Historic Preservation Office agreed to declare this bridge non-historic.

This led to outcries of foul play from locals and preservationists alike, claiming, as Nathan Holth stated in his bridge profile in HistoricBridges.org, the rejection of its national historic status was part of the plan to streamline the process of replacing the bridge.

Photo taken in 2014 by Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Had the Hulton Bridge been declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Laws would have been enforced, forcing the state to look at options to keep the bridge intact once the new bridge opened. The 1544 foot (471 meter) long bridge featured four 260 foot long Parker trusses and one 508 foot long Pennsylvania petit through truss span with bedstead portal bracings resembling the letter X.

A similar design was found in the Donora-Webster Bridge, before the bridge was brought down in July of last year.  Despite protests, PennDOT proceeded to initiate the project, even ignoring the proposals to save the bridge- and this despite its rehabilitation done in 2000, where bridge parts were fixed and the entire structure was painted lilac.

With the Hulton Bridge gone, only the C.L. Schmitt Bridge at New Kensington and the West Mifflin-Riverton Bridge are the two remaining multiple-span through truss bridges left spanning the Allegheny River outside Pittsburgh. Yet given PennDOT’s track record of systematically destroying historic bridges despite opposition to the plan, these two bridges may be gone soon as questionable reasons will be found to justify the decision to take the structures down.

There are two ways to stop them: Have local governments or a private party take over the structures and work to maintain them, or protest the draconian policies to tear down the bridges in front of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg. But that can be done if more people are actively involved in the efforts-

and have a will to learn more about the historic bridges and their role in the development of the transportation system in Pennsylvania and the US. Right now, the interest is more for football and Facebook. When they will take interest remains open.

Here are the clips of the demolition of the Hulton Bridge:

 

 

The Oakmont Historical Society, whose members are currently mourning the loss of their historical icon, produced a documentary of the Hulton Bridge, which includes tours across the bridge. Enjoy this 30+ minute documentary below:

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Donora-Webster Bridge Gone

107-year old historic bridge brought down by explosives at 9:00 am CDT today. Fate of Webster uncertain

DONORA; WEBSTER; PITTSBURGH- The bridge once stood out over the Mongahela River as the symbol of unity between two villages located southeast of Pittsburgh. Many vehicles had crossed the 107-year old structure, at least 150 per day prior to its closing in 2009 due to structural concerns.  Six years after its closing, the bridge is now a memory, with the river now dividing the two villages. The Donora-Webster Bridge was brought down by explosives this morning at 10:00am EDT (9:00am CDT/ 4:00pm Berlin Time). Prior to the historic event, two of the four Parker through truss approach spans on the Donora side plus the steel trestle approach spans on the Webster side had been removed, leaving the Pennsylvania petit main span and the remaining Parker truss spans on each end to be set up for implosion. Here’s a video of the implosion that happened this morning:

Hundreds of people from both villages paid their last respects to the bridge, yet the removal of the bridge, without any plans for a replacement span has left both villages reeling. Especially for the village of Webster, the fate is uncertain, as the community used to feed off its commerce from its sister village Donora, thanks to the bridge. It was built in 1908 by the Toledo-Massilon Bridge Company of Toledo, Ohio, with A.N. Nelson presiding over the construction of the bridge totalling 1547 feet (471.7 meters), with its main span being 517.5 feet- one of the longest in the country. A drone film of what the bridge looked like can be seen below:

When the bridge was closed in 2009, hundreds of locals still used the bridge to cross from point A to point B, while hundreds more from all over the US and Europe paid homage to the crossing in hopes that PennDOT will repair and reopen the bridge. The author was at the bridge as part of the tour itinerary of the 2010 Historic Bridge Weekend in western Pennsylvania. The bridge was quite massive and appeared to be in pristine condition with only a few rust spots that could have been repaired easily, as well as replacing the decking. Still, to the confusion of many locals and preservationists who do not understand the logic behind PennDOT’s decisions (especially as they had a tight budget), the fate of the bridge was sealed when bids were given out at the end of last year and the contractor agreed to remove the bridge by July of this year.  No replacement has been planned yet, which is causing many businesses in Webster to either close up or relocate to the Donora side. Many residents are also moving away, which will eventually result in Webster becoming a ghost town by the end of this decade. Speaking from the experience of residents in Meadville, whose businesses were adversely affected by the closure of the Meade Avenue Bridge for seven years, this rippling effect of not having a bridge as its main link is understandable. And while the project to replace that bridge is underway, there are no plans for the Donora-Webster Bridge as of right now. And given the current situation, it appears the decision will be an indefinite one, which will be fatal for Webster and for residents being forced to drive seven miles to the nearest bridge on each end, especially for emergency crews, a true inconvenience that people will have to get used to, no matter what the cost.

Some more information about the bridge can be found via historicbridges.org here. The author took many photos of the bridge during his trip in 2010, all of which can be found via bridgehunter.com here.

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Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge to be rehabbed. A step in the right direction for preserving Pennsylvania’s (remaining) historic bridges?

There is an old saying that was mentioned many years ago by British author Kazuo Ishiguro which stated that in order to be successful, one has to work within his own boundaries and with the resources that he has at his disposal. Some of the themes used in his novels- the most popular was of course “The Remains of the Day” (published in 1989)- have something to do with trying to go beyond one’s own limits only to meet failure and later regret some years later and eventually, these self-made tragedies are usually served as a lesson for future generations and those who have yet to experience life and know that there are limits to what one is doing.

I wish I can say the same for the governmental agencies and their dealings with historic bridges, for up to now, whenever a historic bridge that has a unique appearance which people can relate to is considered obsolete, they would successfully find ways to destroy them in favor of modernized structures with a very bland feature. We have already seen the demise of the Bridgeport and Fort Steuben Bridges in the Wheeling (West Virginia) area within the last nine months. The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad Bridge over the Minnesota River in the village of Carver, located southwest of Chaska, was removed upon orders of the Union Pacific Railroad in October 2011 despite pleas from the villagers and those interested in preserving a bridge. And perhaps the latest act of stupidity among the agency is replacing the Dolles Mill Bridge in Bollinger County (Missouri) with a concrete slab bridge that is narrower than the Parker through truss bridge built in 1913.

So it definitely came to a surprise that the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge, located over the Ohio River near Ambridge would actually be spared demolition despite being 85 years old and quite a narrow bridge fitting today’s standards. Built in 1927 by the American Bridge Company, the bridge is located in Beaver County, approximately 80 kilometers south-southwest of Pittsburgh, but still deep in the territory of western Pennsylvania.  Up to now, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation played a role of the wrecking ball in influencing decisions to demolish these bridges, destroying as much as 60% of its bridges within the past decade. This included the Foxburg, West Hickory, Venango and East Brady Bridges. Yet despite its bad track record, plus further plans to replace more historic bridges in and around the Pittsburgh area this year, there seems to be a change of heart, or so it seems, with this bridge.

I had a chance to visit this bridge during my tour of the region in 2010 and was quite impressed with its history and appearance. The bridge is a cantilever truss bridge using a Pratt design, and it was built using pinned connections, meaning the parts are put together via bolts and eyelets. The bridge features Howe lattice portal and strut bracings and finials on each of the four cantilever towers of the bridge, all shaped in a form of a curved pyramid.  The bridge’s east approach spans the Ohio River Boulevard and a couple abandoned rail lines before making its was across the Ohio River. After reaching the bank, the two Warren pony truss spans crosses the Norfolk Southern Railway before the road terminates at Constitution Boulevard on the west end of the river.  Its aqua green color gives the bridge an impressive look, and the people of Ambridge have used the bridge as part of their marketing strategy to bring more people and business to the community of 7,800 inhabitants. Interesting enough, Ambridge was incorporated by the American Bridge Company in 1905, by converging neighboring Legionville with the remnants of the village of Economy, which was founded in 1824 by the Harmony Society. The bridge building company was located here and was the main anchor of business in the city as steel mills drew in thousands of residents, looking for work and a place to start their lives. By 1940, the population had reached 18,968 before the steel mills shut down and many people left the community.  While the steel mills no longer exist, the city has preserved much of its business district and is now a main source of tourism. There is hope that the bridge will become part of that heritage once the rehabilitation work is completed.

I spent over an hour at the bridge and saw some bridge inspectors there, looking at the state of the bridge and making some notes and perhaps some recommendations. Judging by the appearance of the bridge, it was on the borderline between saving it and scrapping it. As draconian as PennDOT has been to the historic bridges, I would not have been surprised had the decision for the latter choice been taken. But much to my surprise after talking with the inspectors, my assumptions were wrong. From their point of view, it would be possible if the bridge would last another 25-30 years if some repairs are made.  It was a rather optimistic prediction given the sorry state of the bridges in the US in general.  As a whole, America’s bridges were graded C on a scale from A (excellent) to F (fail) by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009. That means that despite progress in repairing/ rehabilitating as well as replacing bridges deemed structurally obsolete to today’s standards, there is still more work to be done. Yet in terms of preserving historic bridges in general, my grade would be in the D range, and in the case of Pennsylvania, a walloping F.  That means that historic bridges most of the time are minimally maintained, causing them to deteriorate to a point where replacement is warranted. And that could be expensive, as a new bridge is four times as expensive as updating the bridge to meet current traffic standards. There were many examples of historic bridges I visited in western Pennsylvania that fell victim to neglect because of incremental ways to save money for maintenance- even for a good coat of paint if it is needed. As of this entry, a couple have since been removed and replaced and a few more are slated to come out soon.

Despite its top three ranking for the worst infrastructure in the country, Pennsylvania has been trying to catch up on bridge work through its massive bridge replacement program, regardless of where the funding comes from- from the state, federal government or even the private sector. Yet given the dire straits of the US economy and the political stalemate that has been going on in Washington- especially in light of this year’s presidential elections, it seems that the funding is being dried up faster than there are plans for replacing bridges in the next five years. Henceforth, the only viable option for PennDOT is to heed to the demands of the experts in bridge rehabilitation and preservation, listen to the public and rehabilitate the bridge from top to bottom so that the structure can continue serving traffic for more than 30 years and still be part of the legacy that Ambridge still prides itself in.

The plan calls for a complete closure of the bridge between now and the end of November of this year and will include the repair and partial replacement of the bridge deck, replacement of the sidewalk and railings, repairs on the steel superstructure, new roadway, and a new paint job, just to name a few features of the project. What will produce a mixture of reactions from the public and those interested in the bridge is the change in paint color from aqua green to grey. While grey is commonly used on many truss bridges, it is highly questionable on this bridge, given its conformity to the surroundings. Yet there are some bright sides to the use of grey on the bridge, which includes it being brighter for cars at night and more noticeable for navigation on the Ohio River. What the bridge will look like once the rehabilitation is completed remains to be seen, but it appears that if the rehabilitation project is successful, it could spell a chance for PennDOT to look for ways to rehabilitate other historic bridges in the area. It does not necessarily have to be the main links, like the Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge. It could also be some historic bridges, like the Carlton Bridge in Mercer County, which only takes an average of 10 vehicles a day. Rehabilitation can be a win-win situation for all parties involved. It saves money, prolongs the bridge’s life and maximizes its usage and especially, it preserves the historic significance of the bridge and its affiliation with the community and the people connected with it. The Ambridge-Woodlawn Bridge may help PennDOT to finally turn the curve in terms of its stance on historic bridges.

Links:

http://www.bridgehunter.com/pa/beaver/ambridge/

http://www.historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=pennsylvania/ambridge/

http://www.wpxi.com/news/news/local/ambridge-aliquippa-bridge-closed-through-november-/nLKm5/

 

 

Bridgehunter Fast Fact:

Minus the greater Pittsburgh and Wheeling areas, Beaver County ranks in the top five of the highest number of truss bridges in western Pennsylvania, as many simple and cantilever truss bridges can be found within a 5-6 kilometer radius of each other on average. One of the reasons for this is the policy of rehabilitating and preserving pre-1965 spans with a potential of being reused again, despite the historic significance. A couple noteworthy examples include the Fallston Bridge (below). Built by the Penn Bridge Company in 1884, this two-span Whipple truss bridge was rehabilitated in 2005 and still serves traffic to this day. The bridge is located over the Beaver River near the Beaver Valley Golf Course in Fallston.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

The other example is the rehabilitation going on at the Beaver Expressway Bridge (middle bridge in the photo below). Built in 1963, the bridge serves freeway traffic and was undergoing extensive rehabilitation of the deck truss span during the visit. The cities of Rochester and Beaver had already renovated a neighboring bridge to the north of the structure.

Photo taken by James Baughn in 2009

 

Author’s note: Unless noted, photos were taken during a tour in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and along the Ohio River in August 2010