Locals Fight to Preserve the Frank J. Wood Bridge in Maine

frank wood bridge
Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Frank J Wood Bridge

A couple weeks ago, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) declared the historic Frank J. Wood Bridge, a three-span polygonal Warren through truss bridge with riveted connections and one-rhombus Howe lattice portal bracings to be a liability, deciding for the modernity with replacing the structure with a concrete one, to be built alongside the 1932 structure, with the old structure to be removed shortly afterwards. This was confirmed through multiple news outlets as well as the agency’s website.

In the eyes of locals, the news story is considered fake news and have an alternative news story to share, one that sheds light on MDOT’s neglect of historic structures. As the environmental surveys are going to be carried out, much of which in connection with Section 106- 4f of the Historic Preservation Laws of 1966, locals, like John Graham, a realtor in Topsham and one of the members of the committee to save and restore the bridge, are stepping up to the plate and planning to turn the heat on MDOT, to force the agency to rescind the decision and look at constructive ways to keep the bridge in service, using more than enough notable examples to go around.

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In an interview with the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, Mr. Graham provides us with a glimpse of the historic significance of the Frank Wood Bridge, why MDOT has not taken historic bridge preservation seriously- following the path of neighboring New Hampshire- and measures that are planned to fight for the preservation of their prized historic landmark.


  1. First and foremost, how significant is the Frank J Wood Bridge in terms of its history and ties with the communities of Brunswick and Topsham?  

The bridge was built in 1932.  It crosses what was three natural falls, one being so high it stopped the sturgeon from going any high to spawn and was one of the best fishing areas for the Native Americans and there is recorded history as early as 1620 of settlers using it as a fishing spot.  The bridge is flanked on each side by mill building which still stand and were both in operation one into the sixties and the other into the eighties.  The mills have both been redeveloped but retain their historical nature and the three structures- the two mills and the bridge create a recognized Industrial district.  If the bridge is removed the district will no longer exist.  The bridge has been the meeting place of both towns and held Memorial day parade celebrations every year.  President Johnson crossed it in his motorcade once. Pictures of the bridge appear on numerous websites, on last year’s phonebook cover, it is the one instantly recognizable icon of both communities (Topsham and Brunswick).

  1. The bridge was named after Frank J. Wood. Who was he and how important was he to the communities/ area?

Frank J. Wood was a local farmer and paper maker- worked in the Topsham Mill.  He is credited with suggesting the current location of the bridge and died childless shortly after the bridge was completed.

A write-up on the bridge and its history can be viewed by clicking here.

  1. How long has MaineDOT been trying to replace this bridge? What are their arguments for replacing it?  

MDOT has been systematically not maintaining older thru truss bridges for decades.  The last time the bridge was painted was 1980.  They proposed removing in 2004 (?) and then again in 2015.  They have very weak arguments- mainly cost.

Note: There are some examples of historic bridges in Maine that have been taken down, solely for that reason. Click on the following bridges below:

Waldo-Hancock Bridge

Steep Falls Bridge

Bar Mills Bridge

Lisbon Falls Bridge

Sara Mildred Long Bridge

Memorial Bridge

Richmond-Dresden Bridge

Wadsworth Bridge

Stevens Bridge

Littlefield Bridge

  1. Your arguments against replacing the bridge- why should the bridge be preserved?  

Why not?  The bridge is exceptionally wide for its time (30 feet) and tall (14.8 feet).  It was built to have two lanes of traffic and a coal car trolly line down the center.  The bridge if properly maintained could be around for many more generations.  The State is rapidly losing what was once a fairly common bridge type and the location and setting of this one is exceptional.  It is also not functionally obsolete like so many are.  MDOT had a plan in the mid eighties to put three lanes of traffic across it.  It can easily handle two ten foot travel lanes and two five foot bike lanes.  Just up stream is a restored suspension walking bridge.  Maine has few economic things driving it currently and our historical downtowns and historical structures create a unique sense of place.  This drives our tourism industry and attracts both business and residence to the area.  The new “low cost” alternative does not fit the location.

  1. Maine DOT had presented four proposals for the bridge, two of which had to do with rehabilitation. Can you describe how the bridges would be rehabilitated?  Which of the two plans do most of the people favor?  

The rehabilitated bridges would both have completely new decks installed and minor repair to one bottom cord and a complete paint job.  The other alternative adds a second side walk.  It is unclear if a second sidewalk is favored or not.  MDOT has really created dialogue of only new or old and rusty. I personally do not see the need for a second side walk and look at the New Hope- Lambertville Bridge between PA and NJ as a great example of a bridge between two historical downtowns that has only one side walk and handles as many as 14,000 pedestrians in a single weekend.  That bridge is actually longer and also has a newer bypass bridge, although the bypass here is closer.

Please click here to view the page of the New Hope- Lambertville Bridge

A couple other bridge examples from Minnesota also follow the same pattern, such as the Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter as well as the Washington Avenue and Merriam Street Bridges in Minneapolis, for example.

  1. After the DOT’s decision to replace the bridge, you presented a counter-statement, claiming that the agency had not done enough to conduct feasible studies on the bridge, specifically looking at the options carefully and selecting the rehabilitation option. Can you explain further what they didn’t do that they should have done, let alone what they did which would be considered illegal in your terms?

They never have seriously considered rehabilitation and have hired a consulting firm that does not have experience in rehabilitation.  The quotes that they have made public are wildly high according to the experts we have ran the numbers by.  They have used this method to sway public opinion.  MDOT came out with a preferred alternative- the new upstream bridge before the 106 process even begin.  This is not how the process is meant to take place.  They need to hire a qualified firm to give realistic rehab and long term maintenance costs for the bridge.  The main thing they initially failed to do was to say they were going to conduct a full Environment assessment EA. They have since (this week) notified us that they now plan to do so.  If it is necessary to sue it will be after the EA is complete and the 4f process is done.  We are gearing up for the 4f process because this is the law that actually has some teeth and where we can win.  MDOT has publicly stated that it is feasible to rehab the bridge.  We had several small victories during the 106 process where we were able to get them to agree the  rehab with one side walk fit the purpose and need and that the removal of the bridge would be both a adverse affect to the bridge itself and also to the industrial district mentioned above.

  1. In light of the decision by the DOT, what steps are you considering taking at this point?

We were all fully expecting this decision as they had made it a over a year ago and we forced them to follow the law and actually do a real 106 process.  We are gearing up for the 4f and a possible legal battle there.  We are in the process of securing an engineering firm to do an independent analysis of the bridge rehabilitation costs.  This has proven very difficult because no firm in the East will go up against MDOT for they are a big client.  Many have spoken to us off record but none will actually put a report together.  We have found several from across the country that are willing.  The battle now is all in the term “prudent”.  We have forced MDOT to only rely on  life cycle costs to make this argument. Cost we believe are overstated for this sole purpose.

  1. Who else has been helping you with supporting the bridge in terms of consultancy, legal action, fundraising, meetings, etc.?

There is a core group of about 10 of us with two very generous financial backers.  We have an excellent local attorney and engineers and professors from around the country that we have been meeting with.

  1. Should the DOT be forced to rescind their decision and favor restoring the bridge, are there going to be any fundraising options, etc. for the bridge?

When MDOT is forced to maintain the historical structures they are charged with maintaining; the State and Federal government will pay for it.  The fundraising option in this case is called taxes.  That said there is talk of creating a yearly festival centered around the bridge which we would raise money for.

  1. With regard to restoring the bridge, what would the newly restored bridge look like in comparison to the proposed replacement? Would there a park area, etc.?

The restored bridge would look identical to the bridge we have but painted with a new coat of green paint.  The only difference would be the deck would no longer have metal grates down each side and would have slightly narrower travel lanes and actual bike lanes painted on.  The new bridge is a flat highway overpass bridge.  You can see pictures of both on the Facebook page.


  1. What is the general mood at the moment in response to the DOT’s wanting to replace the bridge?

The groups mood is one of continued optimism.  We have been expecting this day.  It is just another step closer till we can save the bridge.  The community is torn between in favor and not in favor although the not in favor have been fed really misleading information from MDOT.

While some communities and regions have stepped aside to let the DOTs and other local agencies tear down their structures, many of which had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are enough pocket of examples of people, like the communities of Brunswick and Topsham are working to impede the progress of MDOT, using experts from across the country to prove that just because one bridge part is bad, does not mean the whole bridge needs to come down. Instead they want to set an example for other DOTs in the US, proving that the age of wasting materials and destroying heritages is not in the best interest, no matter how the arguments are packaged and presented. It is hoped that this successful trend will force others to think about their own infrastructure and use rational thinking instead of the mentality which means, haste makes waste.

The Chroicles will keep you informed on the latest with the Frank Wood Bridge. You can also follow the Friends of the Frank Wood Bridge by clicking onto its facebook page here.

Special Thanks to John Graham for his help in the interview and best of luck in efforts to stop the replacement process, slated to begin next year.

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Green Bridge in Waverly, Iowa: The Bridge That Is the Face of the City


City Council pursuing Replacement Options in the Face of Opposition after a Reversal Voting


WAVERLY, IOWA- This story opens up with a comment mentioned by one of the residents living near the Green Bridge in Waverly: “River Cities work when bridges work.” This was during the time when the Waverly City Council voted to overturn a decision to repair the three-span truss bridge. Little do people realize that even modern bridges have the potential of failing during floods, and most modern bridges lack the aesthetic character as the crossing we are talking about here.


Spanning the Cedar River at 3rd Street SE, this century year old structure was built by the Illinois Steel Company, using standardized bridge designs approved by the Iowa Department of Transportation a couple years earlier. In this case, the structure features three spans of Pratt through trusses with A-frame portal bracings, V-laced overhead strut lacings with 45° heel supports and riveted connections. The total length of the bridge is 363 feet; each span is 121 feet. The width is 17 feet and the vertical clearance is 12 feet. It is unknown when the bridge was painted green, nor do we know of its predecessor, but for 100 years, this bridge provided a link between the Park districts to the south and the rest of Waverly, including the city center. Prior to its closing in 2015, the bridge was restricted to one lane of traffic, controlled by a traffic light, and the decking was steel gridded.

According to information by the local newspapers, the bridge had to be closed due to deterioration of the lower chord of the trusses, combined with cracks in the concrete piers. Much of which was caused by too much salt, combined with damages due to flooding and weather extremities. Still, the bridge retained its structural integrity and its character until most recently.


The Green Bridge has been a subject of controversy lately because of developments by the Waverly City Council. After its closure in February 2015, the city council voted unanimously in favor of rehabilitating the bridge exactly a year later, by a vote of 5-2. The original plan was to replace the decking of the bridge as well as the bearings and floor beams. The bids were later solicited with the lowest one having the cost of $2.3 million for the work. This was well under the city’s budget by about $300,000, according to the facebook page supporting restoring the Green Bridge.  Just as the bid was to be signed and contract let out, the vote for repairing the bridge was reversed- exactly one year later! Thanks to five people speaking for and six against the repairs of the bridge, plus 13 letters for the project in comparison with 9 against, the city council on 22 February this year voted against the plan to repair the Green Bridge, by a vote of 4-3.


Councilman Dave Reznicek’s comment after the vote was best put as follows: “Tonight, we’ve effectively set a precedent that we can go back and undo any vote.”  The factors that led to the reversal decision was obvious:


  1. Costs. At the time of the reversal vote, the city had too many irons in the fire regarding construction projects in the city. This included the reconstruction of several streets, including Cedar Lane and the River Parkway and bridge. While the streets were in dire need of reconstruction, the consensus is the lack of priority as to which streets are a necessity and which ones can wait. Waverly has four Cedar River bridges, but only two that are functioning: The Adams Parkway Bridge to the north and the Hwy. 3 Bridge at downtown. The Green Bridge is closed to traffic and the nearest bridge detour would be through downtown- a waste of gas and money. A fourth bridge is a former railroad crossing that is now a bike trail. A fifth bridge at Cedar River Parkway is being planned and would be the southernmost bridge in the city. The decision to reverse the repair work on the bridge set the precedent for projects that were being undertaken but are now threatened with delays.


  1. Lack of interest. With the costs for several city projects come the lack of interest from residents. The costs for such projects would come at taxpayer’s expense. Letters flooding into the city council and speeches argued that the bridge should be neither repaired nor replaced because of costs. Some argued for replacing the bridge because in the long term, it would be cost effective, even when constructing bridges at grade with the truss structure. However, even modern bridges cannot take high water too well, as seen in a couple video examples below:



Those who support repairing the Green Bridge have two really legitimate excuses: 1. It would retain the historic integrity of the structure and prolong its lifespan by at least 20 years, 2. It would be cost effective in a way that the bridge would still continue to serve traffic in its original state, meaning one-lane with traffic lights to regulate traffic.


  1. Personal interest. Politicking was another key factor in the decision to reverse the decision to repair the bridge. One of the leading opponents of the Green Bridge repair project was Edith Waldstein, who not only voted twice against repairing the bridge but rather replacing it, but also twisted the facts to win influence. In a statement after the 4-3 defeat, when members and residents demanded that the vote to repair the bridge be honored, she replied as follows: “What we approved a year ago was not to repair the bridge, it was to go ahead with the process in seeking bids.” Yet her opposition was not new, for previous projects to restore the Green Bridge also failed because of opposition in the city government. This included a task force to restore the bridge in 2003, where both the city and the State of Iowa were to split the cost. The notion seems to be that modernity is better and there is no place for saving anything antique, this despite pleas from members like Hank Bagelman and Mike Sherer to make it a referendum, despite the latter’s statement that there isn’t a consensus from people living in the district where the bridge is located.



What is next for the bridge?

If the city council has it their way, by February of next year, bid could go out to replace the Green Bridge with a pedestrian bridge, being either a concrete span or a prefabricated truss span similar to the current structure. And by February of 2019,  we will have a new crossing in place. However, despite looking at the possibilities for the new structure, the city council is not paying attention to three key components:


  1. There needs to be a crossing in the south end of Waverly at any cost. Until the Parkway Bridge is built, people are still going to have to detour in order to get to the Park District where the bridge is located.


  1. The Green Bridge is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of its design corresponding to the standard design introduced a century ago, plus its association with the Illinois Steel Company, one of many steel mills and bridge companies based in the greater Chicago area that contributed to the construction of bridges as part of the expansion of America’s infrastructure between 1880 and 1930. Keeping that in mind, before replacing the bridge, the city council will need to cooperate with the Iowa Historical Society and carry out environmental and cultural impact surveys, the latter in accordance to Section 106 4f of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These surveys are time consuming and will look at ways of mitigating replacement of the bridge. As one of the members of the group advocating repairing the bridge, Mary Schildroth stated in an interview: “To those who are simply looking at the cost, we want to remind ourselves that history can’t be replaced; once it’s gone, it’s gone.”


  1. Public consensus is definitely needed in the Green Bridge project. While cooperation with state and federal authorities will be needed for the project- be it repair, rehabilitation, restoration or replacement- the input from the public over the bridge is needed at any cost. Therefore, heeding to the demands of those who have been advocating repairing the bridge- including those who had voted in 2016 but changed their minds the second time around, it is imperative that a referendum is carried out in the fall. By having people go to the polls in November, they can decide on two options


  1. Repair the bridge and if so, how?
  2. Replace the bridge and if so with what for a structure?


In addition, should the public favor option A, the question there would be whether the bridge should be reused or recycled.  One will need to keep in mind that surveys in connection with Section 106 4f will need to be undertaken before it is replaced; no circumvention is possible in this case.


Times will be interesting for the City of Waverly, as it is struggling to maintain its checks and balances, while at the same time please residents, especially in the Park District and places to the south. But one thing is for sure, the Green Bridge still remains as the key link between the south and the city’s business district, and will be even after the Parkway Bridge opens to traffic in a couple years. This is why it is important that people have a say in what they want for a bridge. And the best way to answer that question is to have a referendum. Only there can the city council plan around who votes for repairing the bridge and who votes for replacing it.  And with this referendum, there is no reversal as it happened earlier this year. Once the people have spoken, the city will have to act to fulfill their wishes and restore their reputation.


The whole story on the Green Bridge can be found by clicking here. There you can find previous articles involving the project. The Save the Green Bridge facebook page can be found here. Like to join and share your thoughts and support for the bridge. The Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.

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Historic Bridges: Management, Regulations and Rehabilitation: Seminars in Texas and Oregon

State Highway 78 Bridge at the Texas-Oklahoma border



MADISON (WI)/ MINNEAPOLIS (MN)/ AUSTIN (TX)/ PORTLAND (ORE)- Historic bridges represent a significant portion of the history of American architecture and infrastructure. Its unique design, combined with the significance in connection with the bridge builder and/or other key events makes them valuable pieces of our landscape- encouraging people to visit, photograph and even learn about them. Yet when it comes to preserving them, many people don’t know the policies that exist, such as the Historic Preservation Laws (and in particular, Section 106), many ways to rehabilitate and repurpose them and avoiding adverse effects when they need to be remodeled to meet the demands of today’s traffic standards.

The National Preservation Institute, in collaboration with Mead & Hunt, and Departments of Transportation in Minnesota, Texas and Oregon are conducting two seminars this year to focus on ways of designating and preserving what is left of our engineering heritage.   Amy Squitieri (Mead & Hunt), Kristen Zschlomer (MnDOT), Amber Blanchard (MnDOT), and Steve Olson (Olson & Nesvold Engineers) are heading two interactive seminars, scheduled to take place on the following dates:


April 4-5, 2017 in Austin, Texas

September 12-13 in Portland, Oregon


In the seminars, one will have a chance to look at bridge history and typology, rehabilitation and preservation techniques used on historic bridges that meet current and historical standards, ways to avoid adverse effects when reconstructing bridges, finding alternatives and solutions to bridges slated for replacement, and navigating through the process of Sections 106 and 4(f) of the Historic Preservation Laws.


Those who have taken the seminar have benefitted from this in a substantial way, as you can see in the evaluation comments in the NPI page (here).  Participants of the interactive seminar include federal and state agencies dealing with transportation and historic properties, as well as managers and consultants preparing compliance documents under actions dealing with Section 106 and other laws, as well as those interested in learning about the policies and practices involving historic bridges.


Minnesota, Texas and Oregon are three of only a dozen states in the country that have a comprehensive and successful track record in statewide inventories and the preservation and management of historic bridges. Some examples of successful bridge stories in photos can be seen below.

Piano Bridge in Texas- This bridge was restored in 2013- when the truss bridge was dismantled, sandblasted and reassembled; known as in-kind restoration
Broadway Avenue Bridge in St. Peter, MN: Restored in 2016
Portland Water Works Bridge in Oregon, prior to its relocation to a storage area in 2015, awaiting reuse. Photo taken by Michael Goff

Costs and discounts are available via link. You will receive a confirmation of the reservation as well as the venue and schedule of the events. For more information, please contact NPI via phone at (703) 765-0100 or send them an e-mail at: info@npi.org.

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.

Newsflyer 21 May, 2013






Tornado destroys large bridge in Oklahoma, Bridge lost to flooding in Indiana, Future of Kentucky Bridge in question

The month of May was supposed to bring flowers, warm weather and fun to families and friends, especially because of the fact that in many countries, like Germany, May has the most number of holidays, including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day (in German: Maennertag), Pentecost and the last holiday coming up on 1 June, Children’s Day. In the United States, many schools are either out or will be out soon because of summer vacation.

Yet this month has been unkind to many families, whose lives have been turned upside down because of weather-related disasters. One of those was the Pentecost weekend storms, which generated yesterday’s two-mile wide tornado that destroyed Moore, Oklahoma and devastated many neighborhoods in the outskirts of Oklahoma City. CNN has a page on the disaster with videos which you can view here.  And with the tornadoes and other natural disasters this month came many structures that have fallen prey to these storms, including a multiple-span truss bridge in Oklahoma, which collapsed in yesterday’s storm.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles has a short summary on the fallen bridges, plus a couple other historic bridges that survived unscathed but are facing another enemy, the wrecking ball- and in one case, against the will of residents who don’t want a new bridge there to begin with. Hence, today’s Newsflyer:

Newcastle Bridge collapses- gas pipeline leak noticeable

The 1923 Missouri Valley Bridge Company structure spanned the Canadian River, carrying US Hwy 62, SE of Oklahoma City. It was one of the longest bridges to span a river or ravine in the state, and when it was bypassed by an expressway bridge 30 years ago, the bridge received new life when a natural gas pipeline went across the structure. Unfortunately, like the suburb Moore, the bridge was directly in the path of yesterday’s tornado and two of the 10 Parker through truss spans were knocked off its foundations. Other spans received substantial damage, but even more alarming was the fact that the natural gas pipeline was severed when the spans went down. While clean-up is underway, plans will be in the making to determine the fate of the rest of the bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While parts of the structure may be saved, the danger is that the bridge may be damaged beyond repair and may have to be taken down. But that has to be determined through the Section 106 Process, which will be carried out once the clean-up begins.

Ancient Aquaduct in Indiana lost to flooding

The Illinois and Michigan Canal ran 96 miles (154 km) from the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago on the Chicago River to LaSalle-Peru, Illinois, on the Illinois River. It was finished in 1848 and it allowed boat transportation from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The canal enabled navigation across the Chicago Portage and helped establish Chicago as the transportation hub of the United States, opening before railroads were laid in the area. Its function was largely replaced by the wider and shorter Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900 and it ceased transportation operations in 1933.- James Baughn

The Nettle Creek Aqueduct was one of the structures that carried water along this canal from 1847 (when it was built) to the time it was converted to bike and pedestrian traffic in the 1980s. The stone arch bridge that carried a steel trough was rebuilt multiple times including the time it was converted to recreational use, and was one of the key features of Gebhard Woods State Park. Sadly though, flooding on 7 May undermined the east wall of the arch bridge, causing the structure to collapse. A series of photos courtesy of Steve Conro shows the bridge before and after the disaster. According to the information from locals, flood waters rose to the top of the bridge railing prior to the structure giving way. It is unknown when and how the aqueduct will be rebuilt.


 Kentucky Historic Bridge to be Replaced; Residents to Protest to the Courts

“The people that live there now won’t be there 100 years from now,” and,  “Whatever we do here, we are going to affect the future.”  Those are the comments made by Russell Poore County Magistrate of Logan County, Kentucky in a newspaper interview regarding the decision of the county officials to tear down a historic bridge. The Logan Mill Bridge, an iron Pratt through truss bridge spanning the Red River west of Adairville has been a target of controversy as the county has been pursuing the replacement of the bridge, whereas residents along a two mile stretch of road demanded that the bridge be left alone. As many as six families living near the bridge would like to see the crossing rehabilitated and open to pedestrians. But if the county has it their way, the bridge, considered a piece of scaffolding in their eyes will be replaced by a concrete structure at a cost of $1.36 million. Already the county has voted 4-3 in favor of using the funds for this project. Yet many residents, who felt that their opinion was not heard, will not give up the fight and will take the matter a step further to ensure they have it their way, claiming that the project would be a waste of money and that it would be another “Bridge to Nowhere.” Already the county has offered the bridge up for sale under the conditions that it will be relocated, yet residents near the bridge do not want increased traffic and would rather see the bridge remain for pedestrians only. More will follow on whether the residents will win the fight for the bridge.


Ohio Historic Bridge Relocation to start soon.

 Spanning the Olentangy River in Liberty Township in Delaware County, Ohio, this 1898 truss bridge, going by the name Orange Road, built by the Toledo Bridge Company had been closed since 2007 when a new bridge was built alongside it, and was sitting in its rightful place…. until now, that is. If enough funding is made, the bridge will be dismantled, moved to Liberty Twp. Park and reerected over Wildcat Run. The cost for the project including maintenance will be $657,000. Yet this does not include the cost for some rehabilitation work that is needed given its structurally stability that has been in question according to county inspections that were undertaken prior to its closure and has been brought up ever since.  While it is unclear when the relocation will start or how long the project will take to complete, the plan  has given Ohio a better light on historic bridge preservation, for it had been following Pennsylvania’s footsteps in eliminating as many historic bridges as funding permits it. While it had preserved many structures, there are still many more out there that is in need of attention, including one at Bellaire. More information on the Orange Road Bridge will follow.


Tama Bridge Celebration

It is rare for a bridge in the United States to have a celebration of its own, for such celebrations are common in Europe. Yet in this small Iowa town, located 45 miles west of Cedar Rapids, the celebration is the norm. This past weekend, the 34th annual Tama Bridge Festival took place, celebrating the 98-year old bridge, built in 1915 by Paul Kingsley as part of the Lincoln Highway. The festival featured a 5km run and a parade through downtown Tama, and lastly a midway at the bridge site. This year’s festival is special for it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway that connected New York with San Francisco. While the highway has been bypassed by many US and interstate highways, including US Hwy. 30 which bypasses the town, many reminants of the bridge still exist today, including this bridge, whose railings christen the name Lincoln Highway. The Tama Bridge will be one of the bridges on the HB Weekend tour that will be visited in August. It is a must-see for many bridge enthusiasts.

The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles and sister column The Flensburg Files would like to send our heartfelt prayers and support to the people affected by the Moore and Oklahoma City Tornado that destroyed vast amounts of homes and livelihoods. Please make it known that you are not alone and we’ll be ready to build new bridges to help you start over, clean up so that you can rebuild your lives, and stand together so that we can be a stronger family, supporting, caring and loving each other. Here is are some links for you to help:






Sabula-Savanna Bridge to be given away- any takers?

Side view of the Sabula-Savanna Bridge crossing the Mississippi River. Photo taken by Quinn Phelan in 2010.

Here is a question for many who are involved in marketing historic bridges: 1. What types of bridges have you marketed and sold, 2. How big were they, 3. Were they sold in chunks or in its entirety, 4. did you have to finance the relocation or did the parties do it themselves and 5. (most importantly), were there any takers?

From the point of view of the pontist and historian, the realistic answers for these questions are mainly truss bridges (mostly single span pony trusses) whose length did not exceed an average of 150 feet, although most multiple spans were sold in chunks, parties had to pay for the relocation and rehabilitation costs unless state and federal grants were available and finally, only 10% of the people were interested and actually took the bridge, even though another 40% were interested but did not have the financial resources to cover them. While some states, like Indiana, Texas, Iowa and Vermont have had more success than others, these statistics are alarming and also sobering, as mentioned by Eric Delony in a publication on the disappearance of historic bridges, published in 2003.

Which brings us to this case study involving the Sabula-Savanna Bridge. Spanning the Mississippi River and connecting the former in Jackson County, Iowa with the latter in Caroll County on the Illinois side, this half a mile long bridge was built in 1932 by the Minneapolis Bridge Company and features a Pratt through truss approach span and a cantilever through truss main span, all blue in color. The SaSa Bridge is unique because it represents one of the rarest examples of historic bridges built by the Minneapolis Bridge Company, one of a half dozen bridge building companies located in the largest city in Minnesota. While the Minneapolis bridge building empire dominated much of Minnesota and all areas to the west during the time span of 1880 and 1940, its influence was not as big in Iowa and Illinois thanks to their own set of bridge builders that existed during that time, like the Federal Bridge, Iowa Bridge, and Wickes Construction (all of Des Moines), the Clinton Bridge and Iron Company, the largest of the bridge builders in Iowa, and Illinois Steel, which built numerous bridges in Illinois and parts of Iowa.  Even more unique is the cantilever truss span, which features a K-truss design. K-trusses are different from other trusses, where two diagonal beams, which start at the same vertical beam on one side of the panel meet in the midle of the next vertical beam, creating a K-shaped truss. These trusses were developed in the late 1920s and became popular around the world, as K-truss bridges were built for railroad crossings in Europe. Here in the US, one can find a large quantity of K-trusses in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania but here in Iowa, only one bridge of this kind exists, which is this bridge.

The situation with the bridge is as follows: The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to replace this bridge with a modern one to accomodate more traffic passing through the region. Construction on the new bridge is set to begin in 2015 and upon completion in 2-3 years’ time, the old structure will be removed. However, the IDOT has decided to give the bridge away- for free! All 2,500 feet of the structure is yours if interested, except for one catch: you need to relocate the bridge and maintain its historic integrity in the process, while the DOT will pay for the costs to equal that of the demolition costs. Plus you are responsible for maintaining the bridge and the liability that goes along with that. Plus the bridge would have to be gone within 30 days of the opening of the bridge.  Still interested?

The offer has created an outcry among historians and pontists alike, which ranges from being “unrealistic” to “laughable.” One even mentioned that the costs of maintaining the bridge “forever” is ironic for IDOT has had a bad record of maintaining and preserving historic bridges in their state not counting the greater Chicago area. As mentioned in an earlier posting, the same agency is pursuing the demolition of relict bridges along US Hwy. 50 in order to expand the highway to four lanes. The opinion on the IDOT side has been indifferent as well as one person mentioned that no takers would be expected.

No takers means preparing the bridge’s obituary early then, is it not?

There are some questions though that will result in having the offer being revised at the convenience of other agencies working either at the same level or above the IDOT. Firstly, the SaSa Bridge is also owned by the State of Iowa, which has had an excellent record of preserving the remaining existing historic bridges in the state- mostly in an area east of the Des Moines River, with reports of many truss and arch bridges being relocated to parks and picnic areas for reuse and some being reused as part of the bike trail. Yet according to their website, there seems to be little or no cooperation with its next door neighbor, opening the door to ownership disputes.

Secondly, while environmental impact surveys are being carried out, there is no mentioning of Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Law, which focuses on alternatives to demolition and the documentation of the bridge prior to the project beginning. As the SaSa Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the states are required to conduct the survey before construction starts.

And finally, as it is impractical to relocate a bridge of that size and mass, records have indicated that bridges like this were given to county authorities for use in their system as soon as the new highway bridge is in use. Many examples of such arrangements exist, among them, the St. Francisville Bridge over the Des Moines River at the Iowa-Misouri border. The cantilever Warren through truss bridge, built in 1927, was made obsolete by a freeway bridge, made to carry the Avenue of the Saints linking Mason City and St. Louis, and was subsequentially taken over by the counties of Lee (Iowa) and Clark (Missouri), which has maintained it as a street bridge ever since.

Keeping these arguments in mind, one has to ask himself whether this arrangement of giving the bridge away like IDOT is doing is both legal and practical or if there will be legal action to force the agency to revise its proposal to allow other parties to take over the bridge in its place, to use either for local traffic or part of the bike trail. Given the landscape of the Mississippi River valley and the counties affected by the bridge project, leaving the bridge in place and maintaining it “forever,” as IDOT stated in its offer just makes sense for everyone involved. The fortunate part is construction will not start for another two years, which means more meetings and other proposals will be brought forward before the project is finalized and the excavators can start digging for a new abutment for SaSa’s replacement. Story to be continued…..

More information and photos of the bridge can be found here, as well as in the words marked and underlined in the text.


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.

Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: An Author’s Perspective

Photo taken in August 2010

To start off this column, I would like to start with a quote in connection with the results of the Presidential Elections: “When you give someone a Herculean task, which takes a lot of time to complete, you do not remove him from these tasks when he is halfway finished. You allow him to finish the work so that he and the people can take pride in a job well done.”  The results of the Presidential Elections on Tuesday clearly shows how far President Obama has come in bringing the US and other countries affected by the 2008 meltdown and the Great Recession that followed. Despite the successes, there are still some tasks to be completed in the next four years, and despite Romney’s campaign to defame the President for not being fast enough on job growth, the majority of Americans feel safer with him finishing the job instead of allowing somebody else to dismantle the policies that had been helping Americans during the first four years in office.

This also implies with historic bridge preservation in the US and its connection with infrastructural woes the country has still been having since the I-35W Bridge disaster in 2007.  In 2009, the federal government appropriated $62 billion over the next four years to be spent on improving the infrastructure. Yet a tiny fraction of that money was spent on historic bridge preservation, thus jeopardizing the future of the remaining historic bridges that are on America’s streets. Sadly, given the situation involving the weak economy and the fiscal cliff which America is fast approaching, it is expected that infrastructure spending on the federal level will drop by up to 70% by 2016. According to the Urban Land Institute, over $2 trillion will be needed for upgrading the infrastructure by 2019.  A chart provided by Business Insider shows the collapse in the money spent for the infrastructure in general. This is not good, given the fact that 11% of the country’s bridges (69,223) are rated structurally deficient. Furthermore, the country is struggling to catch up even repairing a short-span crossing because of the lack of funds from the state and federal governments.

This is not good for historic bridge preservation as funding needed for even rehabilitating them for reuse as a pedestrian bridge has also decreased. To compound the situation, either the funding for that aspect was either ignored or lambasted- considered as the waste of money. Challenger Mitt Romney would have eliminated funding for historic bridge preservation as an example of government wasting, as he claimed during his campaign in New Hampshire in May 2012. How President Obama will handle this issue remains to be seen. As seen in the 2008 Proposal by James Garvin, historic bridges have been the target for progress and modernization as two thirds of the number have been lost since the 1980s and funding has focused more towards bridge replacement than bridge rehabilitation and/or preservation.  Still, despite the decrease in the number of lost bridges built prior to 1950, we are seeing more nationally famous historic bridges and those with ornamental decorations  as well as bridges that have the potential of being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places destroyed than at the time during the time between 1990 and 2008.  During Obama’s first four years in office, 721 bridges have been demolished, down from 883 in the last four years of the presidency of George W. Bush. During his eight years in office, as many as 2528 historic bridges met the wrecking ball.

(Source: Bridgehunter.com) 

But bridges, like the Lake Champlain, Foxburg, Upper Bluffton, Fort Keogh, Rock Island Inver Grove Heights and Carquinez at Sacramento became part of the history books instead of a real live monument for future generations to see. Some of them fell victim to natural disasters, others were demolished despite being out of the way of the new bridge and some because of stupid decisions made by government officials using liability as a weapon and drivers who are illiterate enough not to read the weight and height restrictions. In any case there seems to be a trend towards modernization even though a wider slab of concrete will last half as long as truss bridges and a third as long as stone arch bridges in order to reduce cost and liability issues- both of these definitions will need to be clarified before we can move on to the other issues at hand.

Despite the slaughter of historic bridges, the trend towards historic bridge preservation has been growing in the past 10 years, as new methods of bridge restoration and rehabilitation has fostered job growth in professions, such as welding and bridge design, and produced many engineering and restoration firms with the sole purpose of restoring historic buildings and bridges. We have seen a growth in historic bridges on former railroad lines preserved for bike trails, and we have at least a dozen parks devoted towards historic bridges, including the F.W. Kent Park in Tiffin, Iowa and the Historic Bridge Park near Kalmazoo, Michigan. The trend is increasing.  Awareness of the importance of historic bridge preservation through print and electronic media has also increased over the course of three years with more people taking interest in the topic, through reading up on the information, participating in public forums and even conferences devoted towards historic bridges, such as the Historic Bridge Conferences, which have been held every summer since 2009 and Webinars hosted by many companies in the private sector, like Mead and Hunt. As long as the interest is high and/or increasing, measures will be needed to support the movement and place historic bridges on par with the need to improve the infrastructure.

So what will happen in the next four years and how will Obama tackle the issue of infrastructure and with that historic bridge preservation? We know that the issues will be addressed per se, but not right away as more important issues will have to be covered, among them the fiscal cliff, where if cuts are not made by Washington and a budget is balanced, the cuts will automatically be in place come 1 January 2013, putting the US into another recession. This will be fatal for any funding that comes out of Washington for the two important subjects. Yet if the compromise is made (and given the will that is there between the Democrats and the Republicans, it seems very likely), the outlook for the US economy is good, with healthy 3% GDP growth expected in the coming years. This will mean more money coming in for handling these two issues. The question is how to allocate the funding in a way that the rate of demolition of historic bridges is stemmed to an absolute minimum, including finding ways to relocate them for recreational purposes and encouraging rehabilitation thanks to the techniques that have been carried out successfully and disseminated to the rest of the public so that others can use it as reference for their own restoration projects.

Some of the proposals provided by Garvin were accepted, but it is clear that funding inequality, misunderstanding and irrelevant policies are three key hindrances that have prevented more historic bridges from being restored. These issues will need to be resolved in order to for historic bridge preservation to be successful. This will include strengthening regulations to ensure that there is more protection for historic bridges that are either eligible for or are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  As we are seeing education possibilities increase in the areas of welding and other professions involving restoring places of interest, more funding for community colleges and other institutions of secondary information will needed in order to encourage people to embrace these fields, as the need for these workers is increasing.

If we in the bridge mafia are able to convince Obama that historic bridge preservation is important, we will need to make ourselves known to Congress, using a variety of techniques that are considered practical and under budget. A new proposal for funding is needed, combining all the information that was provided in the 2008 Proposal as well as suggestions presented by other members of the community. It must include stricter regulations, but also guidelines and incentives to saving historic bridges.  More awareness of preservation versus progress is needed among our politicians, agencies, even educators, using real live examples of how preservation can benefit everyone in terms of cost-cutting and preserving history. We need to strongly encourage the media to be involved in the work of preservation, using the best examples of successful preservation practices that have occurred over the past 10 years. And we need to encourage accountability for anything that may happen to the bridge because of man-made incidents. That means those who damage or destroy a historic bridge because of disregard to the restrictions should be held accountable. It also means using tools to help owners maintain their historic bridge for years to come. If the proposals we present to Congress are successful, it will be a huge win for the historic bridges, for they have been treated like stepchildren in the shadow of our nation’s infrastructure and all of its shortcomings that are as severe as the number of historic bridges, which have dwindled by two thirds since 1985.

President Obama took on a task which was as huge as Beowulf manhandling the monsters and demons that terrorized the Danish Kingdom, as depicted in an Old English story. Yet despite successes in the first four years, there are still many shortcomings that need to be addressed. We can only hope that he can spend some time with his wife and two daughters at a historic bridge park to see how important historic bridges are to America’s infrastructure and its history and take action to preserve the few that are still left standing. Only when he finishes the job (one of many) will be be honored for his work, similar to how Beowulf was honored for his deeds to the people.


Presidential Elections and Historic Bridge Preservation: A Review of the 2008 Proposal

Mead Avenue Bridge in Meadeville, Pennsylvania. Photo taken in August 2010. Bridge still standing despite being closed to traffic since 2008.


The votes have been counted. The decision has been made. We have our man for the job as President of the United States for the next four years- Barack Obama. While it is appropriate to congratulate him on his victory, which will keep him in office until January 2017, we do know (and perhaps he knows, too) that there is work to be done. A lot has been accomplished in the first four years in office, yet there is a long list of tasks that need to be completed. Among them has to do with historic bridge preservation.

When the president took office in January 2009, he was faced with numerous issues that came about. One was with high unemployment, the other with the problem with the infrastructure; especially in light of the I-35W Bridge disaster on 1 August, 2007. The Transportation Authorization Bill, passed in 2009 was supposed to provide funding to fix the ailing system, which includes building new roads and bridges and providing new jobs for those affected by the economic meltdown that occurred in the Fall 2008. But the question is: what about historic bridges and their role in the Act? A proposal on how to include funding for historic bridge preservation as part of the Act was presented by James Garvin, a historian at the New Hampshire Historical Society in December 2008, with the goal of securing more funding to encourage preservation and reuse of historic bridges, also with a purpose of generating jobs but in sections that deal with restoring bridges, such as welding, etc.

I asked Mr. Garvin if the proposal could be presented to light in this article so that we can review it and find out how far we have come with historic bridge preservation in the last four years and find out if there is a way to bring this matter up to the attention of the president in a different form. As the green light has been given, here is the 2008 version of the proposal.  If there is a way to convince the president that preserving America’s heritage is just as important as improving the infrastructure, let alone producing new jobs for the economy, what proposals would you bring to his desk at the Oval Office?  Read this and I’m looking forward to your thoughts.

Note: As you probably remembered, I conducted an interview with Mr. Garvin about the historic bridge preservation policies and its connection with the Presidential Elections. You can find the transcript here.  My opinion about this topic will come in the next article, however, some food for thought about the election results can be found in an article produced by the sister column The Flensburg Files, which you can click here.

The December 2008 Proposal to Barack Obama from James Garvin:

Summary:   Historic bridges are tangible and inspiring elements of American history.  Preservation of such bridges has been declared a national purpose by Congressional enactment of laws extending back through more than forty years.  Despite the will of Congress, the nation has lost at least 50% of these bridges in the past twenty years.  Few artifacts of American history have been erased so swiftly from our landscape.  The magnitude of this loss is becoming apparent to the American people, and a consensus favoring bridge preservation is developing.  Many of the tools needed to accomplish this preservation must be supplied by Congress, but the Executive Branch has an unparalleled opportunity, in fulfillment of its stated goal to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, to encourage these bridge preservation efforts and to inspire other initiatives to preserve the man-made elements of the American environment.  The preservation of our remaining historic bridges will realize a long deferred intent of Congress while providing a stimulus to the American economy, conserving materials and energy, and preserving the legacy of engineering and aesthetics embodied in these bridges.  Because bridge preservation has been so long deferred, countless projects are poised to begin as soon as funding is available.

Narrative:  Much of the history of the United States is written in our landscape.  Among the most evocative embodiments of that history are our historic bridges.  Bridges represent human thought given physical expression.  Whether rusting as ruins or carrying us safely over the greatest of obstacles, these structures stand among the proud inheritances of a society that became great not through wars and conquests, but by harnessing the power of water and steam and by conquering distance though railroads and highways.  The surviving historic bridges of the United States are a precious but endangered resource in our history of civil engineering, iron and steel manufacturing, transportation, and economics.  Many were among the first bridges to embody the full scope of the science of structural analysis as it was developed by American engineers after the mid-1800s.  They revolutionized transportation at a time when the nation’s roads were a national disgrace.  They transformed the American economy by providing safe passage over dangerous hazards and difficult terrain.

Congress first recognized the significance of America’s historic bridges in 1966 through passage of the National Historic Preservation Act and the Department of Transportation Act.  The latter allows the federal Secretary of Transportation to approve a transportation project that requires the “use” of a historic resource only if (1) there is no feasible and prudent alternative to such “use,” and (2) the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the historic resource resulting from such “use” (49  U.S.C. 303 §771.135 Section 4(f)).2  The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 similarly requires that every federally-funded or -permitted project avoid doing harm to National Register-eligible resources whenever possible.  If harm cannot be avoided, it must be minimized and/or mitigated.  The public must be invited to participate in the process of planning for preservation.

The directive in the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 to the Federal Highway Administration to work toward bridge preservation was strengthened in 1987 with the passage of the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (STURAA). This act created a historic bridge program that codified a Congressional finding that it is in the national interest to encourage the rehabilitation, reuse, and preservation of bridges that are significant in American history, architecture, engineering, and culture (23 U.S.C. 144(o)).

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has likewise developed a policy on the rehabilitation of historic bridges for continued vehicular use when possible, noting that

historic bridges are important links in our past, serve as safe and vital transportation routes in the present, and can represent significant resources for the future. . . . Bridges are the single most visible icon of the civil engineer’s art.  By demonstrating interest in the rehabilitation and reuse of historic bridges, the civil engineering profession acknowledges concern with these resources and an awareness of the historic built environment.

Despite the intent of Congress, our legacy of bridges, and the intelligence and enterprise they embody, is at risk.  That risk can be measured with a degree of accuracy because most states began to inventory their National Register-eligible bridges during the 1980s under directives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Using the baseline documentation provided by these state bridge surveys, a workshop on historic bridges, held in Washington, D. C., in December 2003, came to a dire conclusion:

Since 1991, federal legislation has inspired an important transformation within the transportation community, broadening its mission from the traditional task of providing a safe and efficient highway system to acknowledging that these activities play a critical role in preserving our nation’s natural and historical heritage. Despite this cultural shift, recent statistics suggest that half, if not more, of our Nation’s historic bridges have been lost in the last twenty years—two decades in which transportation and preservation consciousness was at a high level. This is an alarming and sobering statistic.

The will of Congress has been thwarted by a general inadequacy in the level of maintenance of historic bridges and by a pervasive preference among transportation officials for replacement rather than preservation.  State and regional highway agencies, intent on building anew instead of preserving, often perform insufficient maintenance to ensure the preservation of historic bridges.  When the resulting deterioration reaches a critical stage, agencies commonly ignore the Congressional mandate to engage in all possible planning to avoid harm to historic bridges.  Moving quickly, often with minimal public participation, to a decision that there is no “prudent” alternative to the removal of a bridge, these agencies frequently condemn historic bridges to oblivion.  Despite the laws and studies cited above, this pattern of behavior has been recognized among transportation agencies nationwide.  In some states, two-thirds of metal truss bridges have been lost since 1984.

Perceiving the gap between our theoretical commitment to bridge preservation and the catastrophic losses in the field, the Standing Committee on the Environment of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) commissioned the development of general guidelines for bridge rehabilitation and replacement, hoping that such protocols might be adopted across the nation. The resulting report, Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (March 2007), points out that

there is no . . .  protocol that ensures a nationally consistent approach to determining when rehabilitation is the appropriate decision or when replacement is justified. State and local transportation agencies have developed a wide variety of approaches for managing historic bridges . . . but few of the processes are founded on written protocols or guidelines that ensure balanced decision-making that spells out to all stakeholders when rehabilitation is the prudent alternative.

Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement is a recent offering that so far is unsupported by any mandate or initiative from AASHTO.  As yet, it has had little impact on individual states and certainly has not yet had the anticipated effect of encouraging bridge preservation or standardizing the treatment and preservation of historic bridges across the nation.

Yet there is a national consciousness of the enormity of our loss of so significant a part of the American legacy.  Several statewide preservation organizations have declared historic bridges to be among their “most endangered” historic properties.  Individual bridges, and historic bridges in general, have been nominated to the “Eleven Most Endangered” listing of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The present moment offers an opportunity for action.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently offered its “Vision for the Obama Administration.” Included under Section 8, “Transportation,” are four recommendations affecting historic bridges.  They are:

Promote the reuse rather than the demolition of historic bridges by removing current obstacles to their repair or relocation

Include additional [enhanced] historic preservation-based language in the new 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill to encourage the adaptive reuse of the existing transportation infrastructure

Ensure that Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] are not weakened in the 2009 Transportation Authorization Bill

Continue to fund Transportation Enhancement [TE] grants, which have been instrumental in aiding the preservation of historic bridges

Preservation of historic bridges is in keeping with longstanding public policy.  It is ecologically beneficial, inasmuch as it reuses existing materials and greatly reduces the “carbon footprint” of a project in comparison with the demolition of existing structures and building anew.  It is economically beneficial, inasmuch as rehabilitation, while usually less costly than new construction, is labor intensive and thus generates the need for many skilled jobs.

Because existing incentives for bridge preservation have proven insufficient to stanch the loss of half of these structures over the past few decades, an earnest attempt to fulfill the long-expressed will of Congress will require more resources.  In fulfillment of the will of Congress, the United States must develop a national strategy for and commitment to the preservation of historic bridges.  The upcoming reauthorization of the federal Transportation Authorization Bill in 2009 offers an opportunity to reshape bridge preservation practices of the United States.  Among the steps that have been suggested to accomplish this goal, augmenting the vision of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, are:

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop statewide bridge preservation programs

An FHWA mandate, with funding, to develop a national context for historic bridges

AASHTO backing for preservation and better maintenance for all bridges, with further studies like Guidelines for Historic Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement (2007)

Congressional appropriation for the preservation of historic metal truss bridges, comparable to the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program, including funding for study, planning, development of a national database of National Register-eligible bridges, and identification of national “best practices” for bridge preservation

Enhancement of the provisions of Section 4(f) to allow 200% of the estimated cost of demolition (rather than 100%, as at present) to be applied toward the preservation of historic bridges that are bypassed, and to encourage the use of those bridges for alternate transportation uses such as hiking, bicycling, and off-highway recreational vehicles

Provision of dedicated Transportation Enhancement [TE] funding specifically for historic bridge preservation.

Three Bridges Gone, Two collapsed, One dead

Fort Keogh Bridge in Montana, now demolished. Photo courtesy of HABS-HAER

There is a proverb that was passed down to the author by a friend of mine from Minnesota during a bridgehunting tour a couple years ago: Taking care of a valuable thing in life can prolong its life.  Sadly, as far as bridges are concerned, this proverb cannot be taken lightly as neglect and carelessness can destroy a structure with one swift drop into the ravine. In some cases, lives are sacrificed and the value of the structure is lost forever.

Three historic bridge tragedies have come to light in the last month clearly shows the neglect people have taken to maintain or in cases of damage caused by natural disasters, fix the structure to use again. The mentality seems to be that a bridge is to be crossed and if it means exceeding the weight limit. If a bridge is unable to hold traffic, it goes but without considering alternative crossings as a way of saving money and leaving the structure alone for lighter vehicles to cross.  The trouble with these three bridges is that there was little to no media coverage, thus allowing grassroots writers and even bridge websites like this one to fill in the vacuum. Part of that has to do with the Presidential Elections in the USA, which many people are looking forward to it being over with after today. But the other part has to do with the fact that various mediums have focused on issues that are of marginal importance and not on those that matter the most. In the case of one of the bridges that collapsed, one person died of his injuries the next day.  It is hoped that after the Elections are finished, that society and the media can focus on the real issues that matter the most. In this case, ways to preserve and maintain historic bridges for people to use in the future, while at the same time, make them safe for crossing- or if it is not safe, provide alternatives so that drivers can cross to get from point A to point B.

Here are the obituaries of the three bridges:

Fort Keogh Bridge near Miles City, Montana:

Built in 1902 by the Hewett Bridge Company, this two-span Pennsylvania through truss bridge was perhaps the most ornamental of the bridges along the Yellowstone River, which flows into the Missouri River. Sadly though, flooding in 2011 sealed the bridge’s fate as one of the approach spans collapsed and one of the main spans leaned over. Despite pleas from the pontists and preservationists to salvage the bridge for reuse, plans went ahead to demolish the bridge in its entirety. While it was planned in the fall of 2012, it took place with next to no notice this past spring. The bad news was given to the author this past weekend by the state historical society. This tragedy will definitely end up on one pontist’s Wall of Shame because of its discreteness of the whole process, combined with lack of information and will to at least communicate regarding alternatives to demolition. It is questioned whether this act violated the preservation laws (especially Section 106), but no word on that aspect has been given.

Side view of the collapsed structure. Photo courtesy of Sherman Cahal

Old KY Hwy. 1657 Bridge near Falmouth, Kentucky:

Located over the South Branch of Grassy Creek, this bridge is typical of the standardized riveted Pratt through truss bridges that were built in the late 1910s and early 1920s. It was bypassed by a new bridge over a decade ago and became private property. Sadly, the bridge collapsed on 28 October in the evening when Craig Ruber, who owned a landscape store and was part of the Grant County Farm Board, tried crossing the bridge while hauling hay. The weight was too much for the bridge and the truss structure dropped into the river. He died of injuries sustained in the 20-foot fall. Sherman Cahal, who runs a blog bearing the name Bridges and Tunnels, visited the bridge before and after the collapse and provided some details of the structure, which you can click on here.

CGW Bridge and its collapsed span. Photo courtesy of Andy Winegar
The bridge taken at the same site last summer. Courtesy of the author.

Chicago and Great Western Railroad Bridge in Des Moines, Iowa:

The City of Des Moines has a wide array of unique bridges, both in modern terms as well as in historical terms. The CGW Bridge, built between 1893 and 1901 over the Des Moines River, is one of those structures. The bridge features four Pratt through truss spans built on a skew of approximately 20°. When it was abandoned and later bought by the city in 2002, it was hoped that the bridge would become a valued asset for the bike trail network serving the city of 230,000 inhabitants. After the collapse of one of the main spans a week ago, the future of the bridge is anything but certain. While fire caused by arson last year may have contributed to the weakening of the bridge, the main culprit was a crumbling pier supporting the third and fourth spans (going east to west). While it did not receive much attention by the media, this mishap is not unfamiliar, for another Des Moines River Crossing, the Horn’s Ferry Bridge in Marion County, suffered a similar fate 20 years ago. It is unclear what will happen to the CGW Bridge except the options are on the table: replacement span through a girder type structure, conversion into a pier like it happened at Horn’s Ferry, or complete demolition and removal. Given the work being done at the site, it appears that the third option may be exercised. But we will not know until we have clearer details by the city and the contractors involved.

Close-up of the cracked piers. Photo courtesy of John Marvig
Work being done at the bridge site. Photo courtesy of Andy Winegar