Overheight Truck Sheers Through Truss Bridge in Texas

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Photo taken by Brent Tindall, Public Domain

Historic Highway Bridge Closed Indefinitely after Truck Rams into Bridge with the Trailer Set on High.

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DALLAS-FT. WORTH/ GLEN ROSE- Less than one week after a historic bridge in Iowa was lost to an overweight truck, another historic bridge may be destined for scrap heap because of another accident. Yet this time, it involved a truck, whose trailer was far too high for the bridge’s overhead clearance.

The Glen Rose Bridge, located over the Brazos River on US Highway 67 between Glen Rose and Ft. Worth, is currently closed to traffic after a trucker travelled through the cantilever through truss structure with a raised loader, tearing through the portal and sway bracings of the bridge before stopping a third of the way through. The vertical clearance for the 1300-foot cantilever Warren structure is 15 feet! The 1947 structure had been renovated in 2009 to accomodate westbound traffic with the east bound traffic serving the newer structure. It is unknown if the loader, which was in a diagonal position at the time of entering the bridge, was raised intentionally, or if there was either technical or driver error. The driver, who was unhurt in the accident, has been cited for driving with an overheight truck across the bridge, yet more dire consequences may be coming for him and the trucking firm as costs for repairs will need to be calculated.

The 70-year old bridge is currently closed to traffic with all westbound traffic being shifted to the newer, eastbound bridge. It is unknown how much work will be needed on the bridge, but officials at Texas Department of Transportation estimate the westbound bridge being closed for up to a year, be it extensive repairs or a full-blown replacement.

This is the second such accident in less than four years. The Skagit River Interstate 5 Bridge collapsed on 23 May, 2013 after a truck struck its portal bracings, causing one span to collapse. It took less than five months to construct a replacement before reopening the bridge, which still serves I-5 in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

While the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on latest on the Glen Rose Bridge, have a look at the extent of the damage by clicking here. Be careful, the damage may be graphic to some viewers.

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The portal bracings are like the red door of the house of the Burnham family in the film American Beauty. Consisting of lattice or letter-style patterns, they are used to support the end posts of the through truss bridge. They once featured interwoven Town lattice bracings with ornamental features with swirls, iron urns and fancy builder’s plaques. Since 1900, they feature letter-shapes, like the A, M, X, and WV. This one has the WA style, the letters representing the state of Washington.

The sway bracings are horizontal overhead bracings that support the truss frames, keeping it intact. Pending on the through truss bridge’s height and simplistic design, they can be single or multi-layered. The Glen Rose has Lattice-style sways, which increases in layers as the driver approaches one of its two towers.

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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.

How to fix an antique metal bridge: DVD on Historic Bridge Restoration by Julie Bowers

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Photo taken by the author in December, 2014

Author’s Note: This article serves as a twofold function: 1. It is part of a multiple series on the Historic Bridge Conference, which took place last weekend (21-23 September) in Indiana, where the documentary was shown, and 2. This is the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles’ Book of the Month, but in a form of a DVD and documentary. An interview with Julie Bowers on historic bridge preservation was conducted earlier this year and can be viewed by clicking here.

There seems to be a belief from many people that historic metal truss bridges cannot be restored because the metal used for the structure has outlived its usefulness, and that restoration and/or relocation is either too expensive, outdated, or is not heard of. The last part was in connection with a comment made by a congresswoman in Ohio in May of this year.
Little do these critics realize is that restoration exists for metal truss bridges, and in the case of welding, the profession is making a comeback, as there is an increase in interest in this sort of work. And for the remaining truss bridges that are still standing in the country, this may be a blessing that could buck the trend of eliminating this truss type, especially after the I-35W Bridge Disaster of 2007 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).
Using the Piano Bridge in Texas and the McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Iowa and with the support of songs by The Grateful Dead, Julie Bowers of Workin Bridges, a non-profit organization that deals with historic bridge restoration, produced a documentary on historic bridge restoration, bringing a profession back from the dead and, with step-by-step demonstrations and easy to explain concepts by the professionals, providing educational opportunities for welders, historians, agencies, bridge enthusiasts and people interested on how to restore a historic bridge.

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McIntyre Bowstring Arch Bridge in Poweshiek County, Iowa before ist destruction due to flooding in 2010. The parts were salvaged and transported to Delaware. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

The DVD starts with the McIntyre Bridge before and after the flood that destroyed the structure in August 2010 with the question of what to do with the structure. While Workin Bridges was in its infancy when this occurred, the organization’s biggest break came with the request from the people in Fayette County, Texas to restore the pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge, built in 1885 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. Together with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) the restoration process started, first by taking the truss bridge off its original foundations, followed by taking it apart, putting rivets on the bridge, using heat to straighten out the eye bars, and doing other work with the parts, before putting the truss bridge together and placing it back on new foundations. The step-by-step process was filmed and photographed, with experts demonstrating to the viewer how these processes work, thus encouraging people to at least look at how restoration works, but with a long range goal of taking up the profession. Welding is an old technology that was developed in the 1800s, went into hibernation for many decades, but is making a comeback in a new form, which is restoring historic places made of metal. Yet for many people, the profession is new and exciting, but should be taken seriously, as it takes time and effort to form and reform structural parts to make a building or bridge look just like new.

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Piano Bridge in Texas: The bridge lift from its foundations. Photo courtesy of Julie Bowers

Here are some interesting facts about welding that were in the film and are worth noting:

  1. Rivets are more effective than nuts and bolts in a way that they keep the metals intact and ensure that rust and weather extremities do not cause the metal parts to crack. One of the cracked parts discovered on the Piano Bridge led to the structure’s closing and the quest for someone to come and fix it.
  2. Heat stripping is a process of placing the torch on a section of metal, straightening it out with clamps.
  3. The Piano Bridge is made of wrought iron, which has a low heating temperature. Therefore, one needs to be careful not to have heat on a section of metal for a long time or else the material falls apart like wood. This contributed to many structures failing during the Great Chicago Fire on 3 October, 1871, which destroyed 80% of the entire city.
  4. Steel can be welded to wrought iron to ensure its stability for many years, despite claims that it can be bent to a point where it breaks.
  5. Most interesting fact: rehabilitating historic bridges means adding parts to support the structure. It does not mean restoration, as in taking apart and reassembling the structure.

While the welding process was progressing on the Piano Bridge, there were discussions about historic bridges and their fate, especially in connection with the I-35W Bridge Disaster.  While many agencies have striven to have certain bridge types eliminated, as well as those that are structurally deficient, including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, for example, other agencies, like TxDOT have worked to find ways to restore historic bridges and/or relocate them for reuse if deemed necessary. It is part of a two-way approach where the costs are analyzed and engineering thought is put in to determine not whether a historic bridge can be restored but how. John Barton of TxDOT denounces the knee-jerk approach to historic bridge replacement, as it has happened in many places, but claims that engineering is a way to address the variables, both systematically and methodologically and should be taken seriously.

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Piano Bridge in Texas after its restoration. Photo courtesy of Workin Bridges

The film ends with some example bridges that have either been restored, like the State Street Bridge in Bridgeport, Michigan, or are targets for restoration efforts, like the Long Shoals Bridge in Kansas, the Cascade Bridge in Iowa, and the Enochs Knob Bridge in Missouri, the last two of which are being scheduled for demolition, although Workin Bridges is working to claim the Cascade Bridge to be restored. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will have that article for you as soon as the series on the Historic Bridge Conference in Indiana is finished. But it shows how each bridge could be restored thanks to the demonstrations that were presented in the film.

There are many demonstrations on welding techniques that are either available online or through seminars, like the annual welding seminar offered by Vern Mesler in Michigan. The DVD takes you up close to see how historic bridges can be restored through welding techniques that exist. It provides people with a chance to see how the process works and has the dos and don’ts to welding, let alone to restoring a historic bridge. Furthermore it advocates the need to do restoration work instead of rehabilitation, setting the standards very high for reasons of safety and integrity, while at the same time, restoring the bridge is more cost effective than rehabilitation or replacement.

The video is 47 minutes long and from a teacher’s point of view, if you have a class of students of civil engineering, conservation and restoration or even architecture, it is recommended that they see the film to provide them with a glimpse of the work and to spark their interest in possibly joining the profession, which has been growing since 2008. Chances are likely that at least a quarter of the students in the classroom will be interested in the work.  And even if no one is interested in the profession and is only curious about how a bridge is restored, the content of the film is easy to understand and the demonstrations are up front and not too technical. For agencies and politicians who advocate bridge replacement, the DVD provides them with an alternative to demolition, convincing them that restoration is more cost effective and will prolong the life of a bridge for many decades to come.

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Historic Paper Mill Bridge in Newcastle, Delaware.

I would like to end this review with a food for thought involving a question that I posed to many of my students: suppose you have a 120 year old truss bridge that is due for replacement and you have the following choices, which one would you take:

Replace the bridge with a concrete structure
Replace the bridge but leave the truss bridge in tact
Rehabilitate the truss bridge and leave it open to traffic?

Keep in mind the cost analysis for each option, the resources that are available, but most importantly, the interest of the people and their association with the structure. Without the interest, the truss bridge is history. Yet if the interest in saving the bridge is high, then one should look at the resources available and in particular, listen to the public and their suggestions. Chances are one of them may have seen this DVD and knows what he/she is talking about.

The DVD can also be viewed on YouTube, which you can watch below:

 

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

Salisbury Bridge in Meeker County. Photo taken in December 2010

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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