2014 Ammann Awards: The Author Chooses the Best Bridge Stories

Bentonsport Bridge spanning the Des Moines River in Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo taken in December 2014

To start off the Author’s Choice Award version of the 2014 Ammann Awards, presented by the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, I would like to present you with an overture which is in connection with this year’s theme: Bigger is not always better. Enjoy!

 

This year’s Author’s Choice Awards features some of the most interesting stories of how people have come together to save their valued work. However, we have a story of a bridge found underneath a pub, as well as a failed attempt to salvage a historic bridge, and a disaster caused by gravity. And finally stupidity at its finest- caught on tape and youtubed! So without further ado, here are my pics for 2014:

Most Spectacular Disaster:

USA:

Ledbetter Bridge in Kentucky- Spanning the Tennessee River, this 1931 three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge was one of the latter works of architectural art built by Polish engineer, Ralph Modjeski (1861-1940). The bridge no longer exists as it was removed last month, several weeks after a replacement span 700 feet downstream opened to traffic, but one cannot help but watch sections of the bridge collapse on its own, as seen in the photo gallery here.  After reporting one of the approach spans dropping by two feet in 24 hours, officials fenced off the entire bridge, only to later watch sections of it fall on the shoreline. Cause: Erosion undermining the piers, plus some vultures perching on the railings of the affected spans, as the photographer stated.

International: 

Cherryvale Bridge in New Brunswick, Canada- Covered bridges have been especially hardest hit this year, as fire, oversized trucks and natural disasters have damaged or destroyed over three dozen bridges in North America and elsewhere. The Cherryvale Bridge in the province of New Brunswick was one of those unfortunate victims, as floodwaters knocked the 1870s wooden structure off its foundations in May, and the structure flowed downstream before being smashed against a concrete bridge carrying a highway. More on this story hereAs beloved as they are, covered bridges are usually rebuilt by demand from residents. This is the case as well, but will it happen with this bridge? We’ll have to see….

 

Best Historic Bridge Find:

USA: 

Rocky Balboa Railroad Bridge in Durham, North Carolina- This railroad underpass, featuring a 100-year old deck plate girder span, may be a typical bridge accomodating rail traffic. But (and the music from Rocky Balboa will support this), it has had a record of annihilating semi trucks and trailers, as well as tractors, busses, and other overweight vehicles. This DESPITE having every form of warning system and sign in place. Here’s a video to prove it:

 

International:

The Parade Bridge in Norwood (South) Australia- Australia has a wide variety of metal, concrete and wooden bridges dating back to the early 1800s. This bridge, located underneath a pub, was found by chance by the owner as the venue was undergoing extensive renovations. Made of parapet and cobblestone and built in the 1850s, this bridge has a unique history, which can be found here.

Honorable mentioned: The Kersten Miles Bridge in Hamburg, Germany- Built in 1897 and named after the mayor of Hamburg during the Medieval times, this arch bridge is one of the darlings of Hamburg one needs to see, if one wants to know which of the 2,500+ bridges should be visited in the second largest city in Germany. Apart from its ornamental appearance and the fact that the bridge is made of brick, a recent discovery of a pflaster mosaic underneath one of the spans is another reason to visit this unique landmark. More on this discovery can be found here.

Best Way to Salvage a Historic Bridge: USA:

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge East Span- The 1936 eastern half, consisting of cantilever truss spans, was replaced with a cable-stayed span with concrete girders last year and is still being dismantled even as we speak. Yet one person is looking at salvaging parts of the bridge for sustainable housing developments. Although it would look unusual to today’s housing standards, as seen in the article here, it would at least preserve the legacy of the eastern half of the bridge, which partially collapsed in the earthquake in 1989.

Also worth mentioning: Devil’s Elbow Bridge in Pukaski County, Missouri- The Freedom Prime Bridge and this bridge were two of the candidates considered for the author’s choice awards. Yet while Freedom received some accoldaes for best preservation example, this 1923 two-span Parker truss bridge got this one for two reasons: 1. The bridge was part of the Mother Road (Route 66) and because of the importance of the crossings along the highway that had once connected Chicago and Los Angeles, efforts are being undertaken to save what is left of this historic highway. 2. The bridge underwent an extensive renovation, which included new decking, sandblasting and repainting the trusses and making the bridge look just like it was when opened 91 years ago. The bridge should set an example for a pair of other crossings that have recently been rendered unsafe and whose futures are in doubt. More here

International: Katzenbuckel Bridge in Ebenhausen, Bavaria (Germany)- Spanning a rail line near Augsburg in Bavaria, this arch bridge was in the way of progress, for the German Railways want to expand the line and electrify it. The solution: Instead of razing the structure because of its historic significance, the plan is to raise the bridge to better accomodate traffic. Impressive but also one that will have other regions with similar bridges to consider this option, for there are enough candidates to go around. More on the plan can be found here.

Photo taken by James Baughn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worst Example of Restoring/Using a Historic Bridge

USA:  Blue River US 40 Bridge in Kansas City, Missouri- Preservationists and locals are scratching their heads about this 1931 bridge, a steel through arch bridge that is the product of a pair of local bridge builders. The bridge was dismantled to make way for its replacement in August, but in a way that the parts were cut apart and left in a pile, waiting to be taken to its new home in Grandview. Photos of the bridge before and after its dismantling can be found here. Given the “logic” behind this process, the first and foremost question that comes to mind is: How are you going to put the structure back together again without altering its historic integrity? Or are you going to scrap it? My prediction: Its induction into Nathan Holth’s Wall of Shame.

International: Kramer Bridge in Erfurt, Germany- This bridge in the news but in a negative sense. The face of Thuringia’s capital was the focus of a drug operation, used in the German mystery series, Tatort (Scene of the Crime). The episode was aired in December and drew fire from viewers who deemed both the usage and the content to be inappropriate. Shortly after the release, two of the three actors resigned and the German channel MDR decided to scrap the Erfurt series. Lessons on how Tatort should be produced and how places of interest should be used without degrading it should be given by those who have been with the series for over 2 out of the four decades of its existence on German TV, including the likes of Ulike Folkerts, Axel Prahl and Jan Josef Lieffers, who play investigators for their cities (Ludwigshafen and Muenster, respectively.)

 

Biggest Bonehead Story We had a lot of candidates for this category, many of whom just could not learn to shorten the height of and/or lighten the weight of the load. The end result: covered bridges losing their tops and other bridges dropping to the ravine with their load on it. Yet only two examples really standout and should serve as a signal to truck drivers to NOT rely solely on GPS and assumptions, but to obey the traffic signs, or face liabiity.

Pollock’s Mill Bridge in Jefferson, Pennsylvania- Spanning Ten Mile Creek near Jefferson, this single span Whipple through truss bridge, built in 1878 by the Massilon Bridge Company in Ohio is one of the last remaining iron bridges in western Pennsylvania. Yet it almost became a hunk of twisted metal after a tanker truck tried crossing the structure, only to fall partially through the decking. To make matters worse, the driver dumped liquid contents into the stream to lighten the load and keep it from collapsing. A double-environmental catastrophe. Yet with two trucks following him, he should have known better than to first drive through the height restricted underpass located just a half mile before the bridge and then try crossing this bridge, right? Leadership prevents stupid things from happening. Fortunately, the bridge will be repaired and nothing was severely adversed in the water. However, as the article stated here, it could have been worse…..

Watford Bridge in North Dakota- Spanning the Little Missouri River at US Hwy. 85, this Warren through truss with V-laced portal bracings has dealt with a lot in the 55 years in service, especially as it is located near the Bakken Oil Fields. This includes oversized vehicles crossing it and damaging the overhead bracing. Sometimes stupidity is best shown on video, and the truck driver probably did not realized how much of an idiot he was for ignoring the height restrictions until watching the amateur video taken by another truck driver and his passenger, who  spiced it up with some commentary (Note- some comments may not be suitable for children under 13.)

 

This sums up my picks for 2014. As you can see, we had some interesting stories, all caught on photos and film in hopes that drivers pay attention to their load when using the bridges. Because even the most modern bridges can only take so much. Take this advice in mind: Less is Always More, regardless of the gas price.  After watching the videos and reading the articles pertaining to the bridge picks, have a look at the winners of the 2014 Ammann Awards coming up in the next article…..

 

How to teach Infrastructural History in School

Waddell Truss Bridge at Volga State Preserve. Photo taken in August 2011

 

Joint Article with Sister Column:

 In connection with Files’ series on In School in Germany. More on the series can be found here.

History- a subject that goes beyond borders and looks at things that we never knew about, getting us to think about them, putting them in the context of our own lives and the environment we are living in. It goes beyond the borders of geography and how the countries were developed. It goes beyond arena of sports events and looks at the development of each kind and how the men and women contributed to it. It digs deeper into how the country was mapped out in terms of landscape, networks of infrastructure and the social aspects which led to revolution and redesign by reformists and those who wanted to make their place better than before.  In other words, one has to dig deeper to find the truth and challenge what had been written in the past but was now rebuked because of new evidence.

In school, especially on the secondary level, history is a must, and it is important that students know about the history of their country and the rest of the world for two reasons:

1. To help them become acquainted with their own region and country and discover who they are and where they came from and

2. To encourage them to find out more about themselves and where they live, by looking and exploiting the aspects that are seldom mentioned.

As there are certain requirements written by law and because of certain time constraints, only a peck of the history that exists is even taught in the schools, and when it is taught, it is with the traditional social form of teaching: the book and frontal teaching (German: Frontal Unterricht). It is not surprising that the interest in history among youngsters up to 18 is near the bottom of the food chain, in both countries- more so in the US than in Germany because of the strive of educators to have the students achieve high results in the international tests for math, reading and sciences. But as we see in the PISA studies, and which will be discussed in the Files’ article about Frontal Teaching, sometimes student involvement and allowing them to discover something new can encourage a positive education result, even better than the recent studies.

But even with these constraints, the teacher can make some space for some new things that cannot be found in books themselves- at least not yet, that is. And when students are encouraged to do some work on their own, whether it is analysing a text and writing a review about it or presenting about it, then they will benefit from it in a way that they can add the knowledge to what was taught in the past and have fun doing it. This is where the topic of Industrialization and Infrastructure enters the picture.

During my internship at a Gymnasium in Germany, I had an opportunity to dig deeper into the history of the development of Germany in the 1800s by looking at aspects like the creation of democracy, Otto von Bismarck’s creation of the German state in 1871 and how Germany became a super power and remained so until the end of World War I. At the present time the students are talking about Germany, Europe and the age of industrialization between 1871 and 1914, where several aspects, such as imperialism, socialism, worker’s union and environment are being introduced. Even the expansion of the transportation infrastructure and the landscape made of steel will be mentioned. Believe it or not, this is the topic the author of the Chronicles and Files is about to do.

Talking about the infrastructure and comparing it between Germany and the US does produce their similarities in terms of inventions and the development of materials for the construction of buildings, railroads and bridges, yet how does a teacher present these aspects to the students without boring them.  Let’s look at the topic of bridges, for example. There are two different arguments for and against presenting this topic. The contra part would be the simple fact that a bridge is a bridge, crossing a ravine connecting point A and point B. If it fails or is too old, then it is replaced. The pro part to this topic feature the arguments about unique bridge designs, bridge builders that were common, including those who immigrated to the States from Germany, like Ralph Mojeski, Lawrence Johnson, Albert Fink, and Gustav Lindenthal, to name a few. Then there is the switch from iron to steel mainly because of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and lastly the consolidation of 28 bridge builders into the American Bridge Company in 1901 and its competition from other bridge builders in the west, as well as outside the country.

Nathan Holth once presented this topic as a whole during his time as a student teacher (his PPT presentation can be seen here). Some of the unique features, include the builder’s plaque, portal bracing of the truss bridge and ornamental features can enable historians to determine how the development of bridges came about in the US between 1871 and 1914. As I will be the second pontist to present this in a couple weeks time, the topic will be on a wider scale as Germany and US have some similarities with regard to bridge construction. The difference is with regards to the fact that the German concentration seems to be more on canals and railways than with highways, like in the US. Also the full establishment of steel companies, like Thuyssen-Krupp before 1871 enabled Germany to expand the steel-building landscape, constructing bridges and high-rise buildings in large cities, like Berlin and Hamburg, in addition to its fleet of ships.

The question is if one wants to present bridge building in connection with the industrialization- be it in the US, Germany, Europe or when comparing between two countries, what aspects are important and should be presented to the students, keeping in mind that the topic is industrialization, and the time frame is betweenthe 1870s and 1914, the time of World War I?  Which aspects should the students research on in their own spare time? And lastly how should it be taught in high school in comparison to college?

Put your comments here or on the Files’ or Chronicles’ facebook pages as to how you would approach an exotic topic like this, while keeping the topic of Industrialization in mind.  The results of the session, which will be in a couple weeks, will be presented in the Files and sister column the Chronicles.

 

 

Happy Fourth of July 2013

Wabasha Bridge over the Mississippi River Photo taken in Sept. 2010

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Fourth of July- the time to celebrate the birth of America. It started with the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776; 11 years later came the Constitution creating the Republic to which it still stands today. Many historic landmarks still stand today, constructed by many architects and engineers wanting to leave their mark for future Americans to see.

Irene Hixson Bridge, located over I-94 west of Loring Park in Minneapolis, built by Siah Armajani in 1988. Photo taken in 2009.

This applies to bridges as well, for many engineers, whether it was John Roebling, Lawrence Johnson and Gustav Lindenthal, who immigrated from Germany, Ralph Mojeski,  who originated from Poland,  Salvador Calatrava, who was a Spaniard or even Siah Armajani, who gave up his Iranian citizenship to live the American Dream, left their marks on their bridge design and construction for  people to see today. Most of them have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places; some will eventually be listed in the near future because of their design and the example of how these people came to the States to allow for their creativity and fantasy to run wild. Many engineers used Erector sets to draft their dream bridges before building them. Others improvised and built bridges that made people wonder in awe. In any case, many of today’s bridge builders have used the examples of bridges built in the US as a source of inspiration, despite attempts by politicians and agencies alike to have a plain bridge built in the shortest time possible at the cheapest cost- a logic that has caused many in the bridge, preservation and engineering communities to scratch their heads and question their logic. Bridges are meant to carry traffic and goods from point A to point B, yet when they are rendered obsolete, they are meant to be used as a historic marker, recognizing the tire and toil put in by engineers and bridge builders when it was built in the first place, and to be given new life for those engaging in recreational activities, such as biking, walking, jogging, etc.

The Smithfield Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, the best example of a piece of work built by Gustav Lindenthal built in 1883. Photo taken in August 2010


So that’s why we are here to celebrate the Fourth- in style. Many bridges are part of the festivities including fireworks, dances and boat rides, like the bridge over the Mississippi River in Wabasha, Minnesota, for example. Other bridges are the focus of private venues, for fishing, grilling or just being alone to watch the sunset, a prerequisite to the fireworks that go off on the eve of dusk.  In either case, when you cross a bridge this evening, built by an engineering great, think about the hard work put into building the structure and how it became part of America’s infrastructural history, which seems to be mutating at high speeds, from the first primitive crossings, to the ones built of iron and steel, to the ones that are becoming fancier to see. We must take pride in our work and consider that it is not necessary to have such a plain ugly bridge, but to have one that is a work of art, both past and present, for generations of the future to see as they cross it.

Janesville Bridge over the Cedar River at the Bremer/ Black Hawk County border in Iowa. Photo taken in September 2010

The Chronicle’s questions for the Forum (for you to post either in the Comment section of this article or on the facebook page):

1.       Which bridge do you know is the site of the Fourth of July Celebrations or can be seen during the fireworks display?

2.       Which bridge is your favorite place to visit and do during the summer?

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and its sister column the Flensburg Files would like to wish everyone a happy but safe Fourth of July weekend, no matter where you go and what you plan on doing for the weekend.

Newsflyer 24 May 2013

 

 

 

 

 

Major Truss Bridge Collapses in Washington, another Ohio River Truss Bridge Doomed, another Iowa Truss Bridge’s future in Limbo, Hope for Minnesota Bridge?

On the eve the upcoming SIA Conference in Minneapolis/ St. Paul this weekend, one would think that the tornado that wiped Moore, Oklahoma off the map (and with that, half of the Newcastle Bridge) would be the top theme to talk about, as people are cleaning up and questions remain on how to rebuild the infrastructure that is a twisted mess.

However, some other news has popped up in the past couple days have for some reason taken over the limelight, as some major historic bridges have been in the news- one of them in Washington state has rekindled the debate on the usage of truss bridges as means of crossing ravines from point A to point B.  Here is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ second Newsflyer in three days’ time:

 

Major Interstate Highway Bridge Collapses in Washington

Located between Mt. Vernon and Burlington over the Skagit River, the 1,120 foot long bridge featured a Warren through truss (with subdivided beams) with West Virginia portal and strut bracings and riveted connections. The 1955 structure was supposed to be sound, as it carried Interstate 5, a major route running along the West Coast from Vancouver to San Diego. However, last night at 7:15pm local time, the northernmost span of the truss bridge collapsed while commuters were making their way home from work. Numerous cars were in the water, and there is no word on the official number of casualties as of present. The collapse has taken many people including transportation officials by surprise, as the most recent National Bridge Inventory Report gave this bridge a structural rating of 57.4, which is above average. The bridge was considered structurally obsolete but not deficient, meaning it was capable of carrying massive amounts of traffic. Yet this may have to be double-checked, as officials are trying to determine the cause of this tragedy. There is speculation that an oversized truck stuck in the portal entrance of the bridge may have caused the mishap. But evidence and eyewitnesses have to be found in order to prove this claim. I-5 has been rerouted to neighboring Riverside Drive, which runs through Mt. Vernon and Burlington, respectively, and will remain that way until further notice. The collapse will also rekindle the debate among engineers and preservationist alike of whether truss bridges are the right bridge type for roadways to begin with; this after many preservation successes, combined with the construction of bridge replicas, like at Sutliff and Motor Mill Bridges in Iowa, defying the critics of this type in response to another earlier disaster in Minneapolis in 2007. The Seattle PI has pictures and information on the Skagit River Disaster, which can be seen here.

 

Trestle Bridge in Texas Burns and Collapses

If the term “NO WAY!” is applicable to another bridge disaster, it would be this bridge. Spanning the Colorado River a mile north of US 190 and east of San Saba in central Texas, the 1910 bridge featured a 300 foot long wooden trestle and a through truss main span. While the bridge was still in use by trains to carry agricultural goods and oil products, the railroad company owning this bridge will have to either spend money on a new bridge or find alternatives, as fire broke out on the wooden trestle spans on Monday. In a spectacular video taken by fire and transportation officials, seen here, the entire burning structure collapsed like a domino. In the video, one person reacted to the collapse in three words: “There she goes!” Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the fire and destruction.

 

Cairo Bridge. Photo taken by James Baughn

Ohio River Bridge at Cairo, Illinois to be Replaced

The Cairo Bridge, spanning the Ohio River carrying US Hwys. 51 and 60 between Cairo, IL and Wickliffe, KY, is one of the most popular structures along the Ohio River and one of the best examples of bridges designed by Ralph Modjeski of Modjeski and Masters (with the help of the Mt. Vernon Bridge Company). In fact, the 1938 structure opened to traffic two years before the Austrian engineer’s death in Los Angeles. It is one of the key landmarks of the city of Cairo, especially because of its four tall towers that can be seen for 20 miles. Now, the City of Cairo will have to look at a new structure that will stand in its place. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has already started the Environmental Impact Survey to determine the impact on the surroundings when the cantilever truss bridge is dismantled and replaced in favor of a new modernized structure, whose bridge type to be used is left open. This will result in the Section 106 Policy to kick in, even though transportation officials have ignored the alternatives thusfar, and the recent disaster in Washington will support the KYTC’s claim that the bridge’s days over the Ohio River will soon be numbered. Photos of the bridge can be found here, as with the history of Modjeski and Masters, which includes a biography of Modjeski himself, who also built the Quebec Bridge in 1919, still the longest cantilever truss bridge in the world.

Overview of the Cascade Bridge. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan

To Replace or Not to Replace: The Cascade Bridge Story

One of the hair-raising stories we will be watching this year is the fate of the 1896 Baltimore deck truss bridge, spanning Cascade Ravine at Dankward Memorial Park in Burlington, Iowa.  The City wants to demolish the bridge because it is a liability. Engineering surveys conducted by Shuck-Britson and Klingner and Associates recommended replacement as the most feasible alternative. Yet both surveys have been attacked because they were not sufficient. This includes the usage of photos only by Shuck-Britson instead of doing on-site research, which state and federal agencies consider not sufficient. The majority of the citizens in Burlington do not want the bridge replaced because of its historic significance combined with safety issues a new bridge would have. And now Iowa DOT is coordinating a public survey to determine who is in favor of replacing the bridge in comparison to who is on favor of remodeling the bridge for reuse. Here are the factors that are important to note:

a. The cost for total replacement ranges from $3.5 million (according to Shuck-Britson) to $6 million (according to Klingner). The cost for rehabilitating the bridge: between $2 million (according to Workin Bridges based in Grinnell) and $8.5 million (according to Shuck-Britson).

b. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means the environmental and mitigation surveys need to be carried out before making a decision on the future of the bridge. In addition, it is part of the Great River Road, meaning it is one of the key tourist attractions along the Mississippi River.

c. The bridge, built by a local engineering firm based in Cedar Rapids with help of the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company, was closed to traffic in 2008 due to structural concerns on the 464 foot long structure- namely deterioration of the concrete abutments and rust on the bridge joints.

d. Most importantly, the City Council is dependent on a referendum that would introduce a franchise fee, to help pay for the Cascade Bridge Project. Without the fee (which appears to be dead on arrival), the project would be one of the first to be on the chopping block because of lack of funding.

Nevertheless, the future of this rare structure remains in limbo and it is a matter of time before a decision will have to be made. One fact is certain, the bridge will be visited by many enthusiasts during the Historic Bridge Weekend in August. Perhaps this might bring this matter to one’s attention on a larger scale.  Please see the link with a copy of the article photographed by Julie Bowers upon request to read the details.

Overview of the bridge with a airline jet approaching the runway of the nearby Twin Cities International Airport. Photo taken in August 2011

Rehabilitate or Replace? The Cedar Avenue Bridge Story

Another piece of good news, pending on one looks at it, comes from the City of Bloomington, Minnesota, which is trying to rid itself of an important historic landmark, considered a liability in their eyes.  As part of the $1.5 billion plan to expand the Mall of America, the state tax committee on Wednesday granted $259 million to be granted to the City of Bloomington, which owns the venue. $9 million will go directly to the Cedar Avenue Bridge Project. Yet the city has to approve the plan before receiving the money. While the Chronicles has an article coming on this story, a brief summary: The bridge was built in 1920 and features five spans of riveted Parker through trusses, crossing Long Meadow Lake. Together with a swing bridge over the Minnesota River, it used to carry Minnesota Hwy. 77 until an arch bridge built east of the span was built in 1978. It was closed to vehicular traffic in 1996 and has been fenced off since 2002.  Discussion has been brewing whether to restore the entire structure and reopen it to regular traffic, or tear it down and replace it with a new structure. As the bridge sits in the National Wildlife Refuge and is listed on the National Regsiter of Historic Places, federal officials want the bridge restored. The majority of the City Council favor a brand new bridge. And like the Cascade Bridge, figures for replacing vs. restoring the bridge have been flying around, with no idea of which option or how the bridge will be restored.  Thanks to $9 million on funding available, discussion will be intense and the Chronicles will follow the story as it unfolds. In the meantime, have a look at the photos here to determine what to do with the bridge.