Showdown at Fehmarn

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The Beltretter Petition Drive at the Burg Market Square. Photo taken in August 2016

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Petition Drive to Stop the Construction of the Tunnel at Puttgarden in Full Gear; Discussion about the Fehmarn Bridge’s Future is on.

BURG/ FEHMARN- For the second time in three years, I had a chance to take a trip to the German Island of Fehmarn, located between Denmark and the state of Schleswig-Holstein, connected by the Migratory Route Highway connecting Copenhagen and Hamburg. Astonished by its beauty and the hospitality the people there gave us our last time, for my family and me, which also includes a friend of ours and her daughter, Fehmarn appears to be the place to go to relax, swim, run along the coast with the wind in our faces and bike to our favorite places for fish with fried potatoes Holstein style.

Yet on this trip it was totally different. Different in a way that the inhabitants of the island are divided over a mega-project that is coming to cross the island- the noise that is comparable to the noise one see along the Migratory Route, which seemed to have increased since our last visit. When visiting the state of Schleswig-Holstein, especially in the eastern part, one will see a blue X every second house along with its slogan, a Christmas light set depicting the Fehmarn Bridge at every fourth house, and this van with the Belt Retter slogan on there, lined up with hundreds of people talking to representatives of the group fighting to stop the project from happening, and signing petitions in the process.  The scene is getting brighter and bluer as the weeks come along….

…..and for a good reason!

Since my visit in 2014, I’ve been covering the events on Fehmarn, which involved not only the island’s future, but also that of the Fehmarn Bridge. To recap on the situation, the Danish Government have been cooperating with the German authorities regarding the construction of the multi-track/lane tunnel connecting Puttgarden (GER) and Rodby (DK), thus eliminating the need for ferry service. The tunnel would feature two tracks accomodating long-distance trains as well as six lanes of motorway traffic, creating a total width of one kilometer including the property acquisitions. At 20 km, it would be touted as the longest tunnel in the world that would serve automobile traffic. At the same time, German government authorities in Berlin and Kiel as well as the German Railways are working together for a new bridge on the south end, spanning the Fehmarn Sound- replacing the island’s iconic span which is the first of its kind ever built.  At the moment, transportation authorities have deemed the 1963 bridge to be functionally obsolete and at the end of its useful life. According to the latest reports from LN-News in Luebeck, planning is in the works to have a new iconic span resembling the Golden Gate Bridge to be discussed and possibly voted on. If approved, construction could start in 2018 and be finished in 10 years.

The current situation during the visit:

The Belt Retter movement has been gaining steam in the past weeks, with organizers and supporters collecting signatures and letters of petitions in much of Schleswig-Holstein- in particular, the eastern half and of course, Fehmarn Island itself. Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected online, as well as in person at the markets and other events. I was lucky to stop at the Belt Retter site at the market square in Burg during our visit to talk to the representatives there, and get some information on the latest with the Puttgarden-Rodby Tunnel (aka Belt Tunnel). The Danish government, which has been keen on moving forward with the project, had previously rejected an earlier proposal for the tunnel last year because of approximately 249 errors in the design and concept, according to officials of the organisation I talked to at the market. After reworking the project, a new proposal was submitted back in June by the coordinators of the project, LBV Luebeck and Femmern A/S, and now the clock is ticking on the part of the locals, the Belt Retter organisation and all other parties opposed to the plan, who had previously petitioned to stop the first draft and succeeded last year. Between now and August 26th, you have an opportunity to submit your petition online or through contact with the representatives of Belt Retter, who will then forward that onto a committee that will feature representatives of the tunnel project, environmental and legal experts, local, regional and state representatives and others involved with the project, who will review it and take further measures. Possible legal measures, such as lawsuits and court order injunctions are on the table should it become a necessity.

Attempts are also being made regarding ways to preserve the Fehmarn Bridge. Rehabilitating the bridge for continual use has been ruled out because of the cost intensitity, but also because it is predicted that the bridge’s lifespan would be prolonged by only 30 years. However, such rehabilitation techniques have been tried on several bridges made of steel, including the steel wiring that is also found on the Fehmarn Bridge. The findings: such rehabilitation can prolong the life of a bridge by up to a century, counting maintenance and other essentials. Already done was the Bay Bridge and (also) the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, this is also being conducted on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, built in 1938 under Swiss Engineer Othmar H. Ammann. Crying wolf over the potential failure of the bridge, as was stated by authorities of the government in Berlin and the German railways, the issues of rust, especially seen by the author while revisiting the bridge this year is only minor. Bridge rehabilitation experts would also agree that rehabilitation would be cost effective, saving taxpayer money by up to half the cost for a new bridge. In other words, and as I signed my petition against the project, I even noted, the movement to stop this mega-project with the tunnel should also include rehabilitating the Fehmarn Bridge.

Opinions are split down the middle among those who are vehemently against the project because of the negative environmental and economic impact as well as those involving tourism and culture and those who are in favor because of the need to modernize the infrastructure and bring in more tourism. It can even be found with the two different stickers at a souvenir shop at Suedstrand in Burgtiefe with the blue X and green check marks, the latter being for the project. Protests from different factors, including the Scandlines (which operates the ferry between Puttgarden and Rodby) have increased loudly in numbers, opposing the entire project. While those supporting the project say that it is a necessity and will come anyway, the Danes are becoming more and more sceptical of the tunnel concept because of the exploding costs for surveys, legal issues and the redesigning of the system. Many have joined the movement on the German side, which has increased tremendously since my last visit.  While it is expected that the construction of the tunnel is to begin in 2020 and last 10 years, should the petition become a success for the second time, it might derail the entire project, putting it on ice indefinitely.

And with that, hopefully in the eyes of locals and people attached to Fehmarn, a return to normalcy which includes accessing the island by two-lane traffic or ferry, coaxing passers-by into stopping on the island for a visit and vacation. This is something you cannot do with a mega-project that would cut the island into two if proponents have their way.

Do you want to stop the project, click here to read the information and sign the petition. Contact details are available if you need further information. The information is in German, but you can talk to someone with English or Danish knowledge if you have any questions. It takes 2-4 minutes to do and consists of multiple choice questions that are user friendly.  If you’re still not convinced that the project cannot be stopped, go to the wordpress version of the Flensburg Files. There, you can click on the gallery with pics of the places visited this year with some comments on my part.

Checkout the articles written about the Fehmarn Bridge Situation including the bridge, by clicking here, here and here.

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Linz Railroad Bridge Preservation: Interview

Obique view of the bridge. Image courtesy of Thomas Nemcsek.

The next Chronicles entry takes us back to Linz in central Austria, and in particular, this bridge over the Danube. Two years ago, the Chronicles published an article about the future of this three-span hybrid Parker-Whipple through truss span that used to carry rail and vehicular traffic and features a pedestrian boardwalk. At that time, public sentiment favored replacing the bridge with a modern one, which would fit the modern landscape but leave the Styregg Bridge in the northern part of the city as the lone historic bridge left. As seen in the article here, the Office of Historic Preservation was the last barrier to be taken down before demolition could proceed, which was backed by the city government and the Austrian Railways.

Fast-forward to the present, and we see a somewhat different scenario involving the bridge. The Austrian Railways has relinquished its responsibility of the bridge to the organization Linz AG, public support for the bridge has increased to the majority, but attempts to destroy efforts to preserve the bridge including one agency changing sides and producing one of the biggest scandals in the city’s history, are still there.

The organization Rettet die Eisenbahnbrücke (EN: Save the Linz Railway Bridge) was formed and started several initiatives to convince the city to change its mind. Despite its infancy, the support for the bridge has been enormous, with almost 8,000 likes on facebook and tens of thousands of signatures that prompted the city to involve the public about the plans for the bridge. Even the Chronicles has thrown in its support for this unique bridge that has been considered a historic jewel for the city, the Danube River and central Europe.

Underneath the bridge in black and white. Photo courtesy of Arno Schröckenfux

I had an opportunity to interview Robert Ritter, one of the organizers who is spearheading efforts to get the bridge saved, asking him about the current situation of the bridge and what the group wants to do with the bridge. Despite a long battle ahead of them, he remains optimistic that the public will have a say towards what they want to do with the bridge, which is restore the structure and convert it into a bike and pedestrian crossing with an option to include streetcar service in the future. Here is the Chronicles’ Q&A with Herrn Ritter:

1. What got you started with saving the Linz Railroad Bridge?
It was initially press reports saying that the demolition of the bridge had been enacted in the municipal council. We were wondering that nobody in public seemed to take notice of this incredible act let alone stand up against it. We learned that there were numerous initiatives campaigning for the preservation of the monument, all more or less remaining unnoticed or unsuccessful. So we decided to try the same through Facebook. Some weeks before we started a Facebook campaign demanding a beach cafe at the river Danube had led to a round table involving politicians and Facebook activists to realize the project.
2. In the past three years, political support has been mounting to replace the railroad bridge with a more modern one because of claims that the bridge cannot be restored. Is the political pressure there and if so, how have you been combating it?
It’s more ignorance than pressure we are fighting against. We are detecting massive economical interests in destroying the bridge and a network of actors that are very close to corruption the way they have been pushing their concerns. However, we have strong support by most of the political opposition to the government and even by members of the governing parties (which are the social democrats and the green party).
3. The bridge is now privately owned, from what I understand. Is it right?   If so, what are your plans for the bridge?
That is correct although the “private” owner is a company that is owned by the city. The company is a result of sourcing-out services provided by the city. Our plans are to preserve the monument as a bridge for cyclists and pedestrians and – if necessary – for a tramway. A new bridge for cars can easily be built beside the railroad bridge unless it should turn out that another position for the new bridge is a better option in terms of traffic concepts.
4. How much support have you received so far?
Well, we almost have 8000 supporters on Facebook. Even 7000 were enough to make the mayor invite the Facebook activists for “Linz braucht einen Strand” to a round table. We notice that there is also very much popular demand for a preservation of the bridge by persons that are not on Facebook. And we do not detect much open opposition against our concern.
5. Is it true about the Denkmalamt removing the historic status of the bridge (as seen in one of the fb postings)?  If so, how will you go about in convincing the agency to reinstate this status?
The permission to demolish the monument (so the official term) was politically motivated and is a scandal on its own. Some history: in the 1960ies the municipal government of Linz destroyed a textile manufactory of the 17th century in face of grim protest of the public. As a result an independent advisory board for issues concerning historical monuments (Unabhängiger Denkmalbeirat) was established by law to never let anything like that happen again. Well, the advisory board argued by majority vote FOR a preservation of the railroad bridge. For the first time in the history of the advisory board the Denkmalamt ignored its recommendation. Notice that the Denkmalamt is subordinated to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture headed by a social democrat minister. Coincidence?
6. If plans for restoring the bridge are approved, what is the timeline for the project? How will the bridge be maintained?
Well, we are far away from speaking of timelines. We are preparing to utilize all democratic means to fight for a participation of the population in the decision. At the moment the city government is planning a timeline for the demolition of the bridge. The demolition has to be executed within 3 years after the permission of the Denkmalamt which means a lot of pressure for the destroyers. There are detailed offers by steel building companies to restore the bridge. It is possible and it is by far cheaper to restore AND build a new bridge than to tear down the monument and build a new one.
7. Any advice to anyone who is working on saving a historic bridge, especially one over such a large river like the Danube? Do you know of other similar bridges that are being restored that are worth mentioning?
There are more best practice examples for restoring historic bridges than can be mentioned here. Some of them are the bridges Baltoji Voke  and Kaunas (both Lithuania), Eglisau (Switzerland) and The Hef in Rotterdam. To anyone who is working on saving a bridge: fear nobody, don’t give up, involve the public! And utilize social media – they have an incredible potential for reaching lots of people within a short time.
The Railway Bridge at night but in black and white. Photo courtesy of Madeleine Schneider
If you are interested in taking part in any efforts to save the Linz Railway Bridge, go to their facebook page to like (here) and follow up on the updates and photos provided on the page. There is also a website, where you can sign the petition and subscribe to updates on the current situation with the bridge so that you have an opportunity to participate in the efforts to save the structure. You can click on the link here for more details.
The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest developments involving the bridge, as things are heating up between those wanting to save the bridge and those wanting to demolish and replace it. The Chronicles is also on facebook and twitter which you can subscribe to follow the updates on that and other bridges in Europe and the US.  As you can see in the interview, the battle is brewing, but in the end, the people of Linz will have the final say as to what will be done to the bridge. It is hoped that a compromise- a historic bridge as a bike and pedestrian trail and a new bridge alongside it for vehicular traffic will serve to the liking of both parties. But it will all depend on the number of votes needed to realize this project.
The author would like to thank Robert Ritter for the interview and wish him and the rest of the group best of luck. Also a round of thanks to the photographers who were willing to share their pics of the bridge for this article. Their names have been noted on each one. 

Massacre of Historic Bridges in the USA Underway?

Nine-span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana- one of over a dozen historic bridges that are coming down. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

At the beginning of this year, fellow pontist James Baughn predicted in his website, the Historic and Notable Bridges of the US, that there would be fewer demolitions for 2013, providing hope for many people wanting to save their historic bridges that are threatened with demolition and replacement.

Perhaps this prediction should be retracted.

While some well known bridges, like the Fort Keogh Bridge were removed last year and a few others have been slated for replacement for this year, the most recent reports by many pontists believe that 2013 may be a record-setting year for replacement of bridges built in 1945 and earlier. Many of them are being taken off the map with little or no input from the public, let alone regard to the policies protecting the ones listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The claim: liability, safety and the end of its useful life as many officials and engineers have claimed with these bridges.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has compiled a list of historic bridges that are scheduled to come down within the next 2-3 months or are threatened with demolition.  A couple of bridges are being reported on by the Chronicles and will be presented in separate articles. It is hoped that this list of bridges will serve as a wake-up call for change in terms of policies protecting historic bridges in the US while finding more constructive ways to better inform the public about the future of these structures, and to encourage them to take action to save what is left of American history for generations to come. Links to the bridges are provided when clicking onto the underlines titles and phrases.  Without further ado, here are the list of bridges that one should see before they are gone forever- falling victims of the wrecking ball:

Portal view of the Harvey Dowell Bridge in Arkansas. Photo taken by David Backlin in 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey Dowell Bridge in Washington County, Arkansas:

Built in 1926, this bridge is one of the rarest in the state whose top chord of the riveted Pratt through truss bridge has an H-beam shape. The bridge has taken a beating by overhead trucks and tractors and is one of the reasons why county crews are going to remove it in favor of a wider bridge. Demolition will commence at the end of January, and the replacement bridge should be finished by this summer.

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, PA. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Mill Street Bridge in New Castle, Pennsylvania

Spanning the Neshannock Creek carrying Mill Street, this Parker through truss bridge, built in 1917 by Thomas Gilkey, features a rather unique skewed portal bracing, where at each entrance one end post is vertical and the other is slanted at 50°. While this bridge is the last of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of the rarest to find in the US, Lawrence County officials signed it off to be converted into scrap metal in favor of a steel beam bridge with a goal of making it conform with the town’s business district. Demolition will begin in the spring and should be finished by the end of this year.

Tunnel view of the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Close-up of the skewed portal bracings on the Nine-Span Bridge in Hammond, Indiana. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Hamond (Nine-Span) Bridge in Hammond (Lake County), Indiana

This story will surely be in the running for Worst Example to Preserve a Historic Bridge for 2013. This 1935 bridge, featuring ten Parker through truss spans with skews and unusual portal bracings, spans a railroad year and with a total length of 2,137 feet, it is the longest bridge of its kind in Indiana. Although this bridge has been on the state’s historic bridge market page for five years, the IndianaDOT has decided to demolish the entire structure in favor of a longer and wider beam bridge. One of the spans however will be dismantled, put in storage and made available for purchase between now and 2023! Any takers for the lone span? Demolition has begun with the removal of light posts, utility poles and roadbed, which will be followed by a series of implosion taking place in the spring. The new bridge should be completed by the end of this year, perhaps into next year.

Overview of the Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama. Photo taken by Ben Tate

Ghost Bridge in Lauderdale County, Alabama

This story will be followed up here at the Chronicles, as the struggle to stop the bulldozers and wrecking balls by a bunch of bridge lovers and local residents has heated up. The Ghost Bridge, a pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, was built in 1912 by the Virginia Bridge and Iron Works Company, replacing a wooden covered bridge built during the Civil War. The bridge has a lot of history and ghost stories. Yet since its abandonment in 1996, it fell into disarray with the deck being partially removed or damaged and people using drugs and falling through the deck into Cypress Creek. Most recently, county officials let out the contract to remove the bridge within 30 days, despite it being listed on the National Register. Yet the preservation group and other residents are currently pursuing an injunction to stop the process, claiming that there was no formal hearing and there is a potential that some regulations involving protecting this bridge may be illegally circumvented. Already, crews are beginning to remove the roadway and railings and plans are in the making to remove the structure before the end of this month. However, protests to stop the process will begin this week both at the county courthouse as well as at the bridge itself. The Chronicles has a separate article on the developments and will be posted after the release of this article.

Hammond Pennsylvania Truss Bridge in Humboldt County, CA

Humboldt County, located in northwestern California, has a wide array of bridges built using many bridge types and dating as far back as the late 1800s. However, the county cannot seem to maintain this bridge, a Pennsylvania petit through truss bridge over the Mad River connecting McKinleyville to the north and Pacific to the south. Brought in from Washington state in 1941, the 1905 bridge used to serve rail traffic until it was converted to a pedestrian trail in the 1960s. Yet thanks to no maintenance work since that time, the bridge has fallen into disarray to a point where the decision was made to demolish the structure in favor of a concrete beam bridge for safety reasons. A classic example of a bridge that could have been rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost of a new bridge. Demolition will commence sometime this year.

Goose Creek Bridge in Leesburg, Virginia

Located at Keep Londoun Beautiful Park south of Leesburg, this two-span steel Warren pony truss was built in 1932 replacing an iron through truss bridge that was relocated to Featherbed Lane over Caoctin Creek south of Lovettsville. While the bridge served as a look-out point at the park since it was made obsolete by a beam bridge in the 1980s, it fell into disarray to a point where the county decided that instead of providing funding to rehabilitate the structure, it would be removed. While the contract was let out recently, the cost for the project will be more than expected, raising questions of whether the decision not to take on funding by the state to restore the bridge in 2006/7 was a mistake that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more for its removal than for its restoration. The removal of the bridge will commence in the spring.

Side view of the abandoned Boscawen Bridge in New Hampshire. Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Two Merrimack County (New Hampshire) Bridges:

New Hampshire, as mentioned on a pair of occasions in October, has a reputation of treating and demolishing historic bridges to a point where even state representatives have recommended people visiting neighboring Vermont if they want to visit any historic bridges made of concrete and metal. Add two more reasons to avoid the state with a pair of through truss bridges in Merrimack County scheduled to be demolished before the Spring thaw. The Depot Street Bridge in Boscawen, a two-span Parker through truss bridge built in 1907, has been abandoned since 1965 and residents are looking forward to seeing the safety hazard removed as a contract was let out to have the bridge dismantled. It will be lowered onto the icy Merrimack River, dismantled and hauled away as scrap metal. The Sewell Falls Bridge over the same river at Concord was written off as unsalvageable through an engineering survey and county officials are inquiring about its removal. Fortunately, while the demolition will not commence before 2014, the public will still have  a chance to voice their opinion about the bridge and the options available between preservation and demolition and replacement. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest.

Photo taken by the author while on a bike tour in 1999. Note, this was taken underneath the McKennan Hospital Car Park Complex

McKennan Pedestrian Bridge in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

The City of Sioux Falls has been undertaking a beautification of its downtown area, along the Big Sioux River, which includes establishing parks and recreation areas and expanding the bike trail. However, it will come at the cost of this two-span Howe pony truss bridge, located between the 8th Street and 10th Street crossings. It was converted to a bike trail in the 1970s when the railroad abandoned it and can be seen together with the McKennan Hospital Car Park from the 10th Street Bridge. Together with the parking garage (which occurred last year), the bridge will be demolished in favor of a newer truss bridge, the second one built in two years, which will raise questions about its conformity to the rest of the cityscape. Unless the bridge is saved in the last minute, demolition will most likely begin in the spring.

Washington Street Bridge in Sedalia, Missouri

Spanning the railroad in Sedalia’s business district, this pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracing, built in 1911 by the Midland Bridge Company in Kansas City, is one of the landmarks serving the county seat of Pettis County and is one of two bridges of its type left in the county. Sadly, this bridge has been closed to traffic and is scheduled to be replaced this year, even though it is unknown when the demolition will commence….

Fitch’s Bridge in Groton, Massachusetts

Located west of Lowell in the town of Groton, little has been known about the double-intersecting Warren through truss spanning the Nashua River, except that it was built in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Berlin, Conn., and has been abandoned since the 1960s, with the bridge being used as a diving board into the river. Plans are in the making to either remove or remove and replace the bridge. According to an organization wanting to save and rehabilitate the bridge, there is an option three which has yet to be presented with persuasion. More on the developments to come here at the Chronicles.