Apocalyptic Floods Destroy Bridges in Midwest

Sargent Bridge in Custer County, Nebraska- Destroyed by Ice Jam. Photo: wikiCommons

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OMAHA/SIOUX FALLS/DES MOINES-

After record-setting snowfall and cold in the Midwest of the US, residents and farmers are bracing for what could be flooding of biblical proportions. Already in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Wisconsin, one can see fields converted into lakes and piles of broken ice from rivers and lakes littering streets and Highways. Billions of Dollars in property lost are expected as floodwaters and ice have destroyed farms and killed livestock, while many houses are underwater with thousands of residents displaced. Highways and especially bridges have been washed away, while other forms of infrastructure have caved in under the pressure of high water caused by snowfall, ice on the ground and massive amounts of precipitation.  For residents in Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois and regions along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, where people are sandbagging their homes and communities, while others are evacuating, the scenes out west are a preview of what is yet to come.

The same applies for many historic bridges and other key crossings, for reports of bridges being washed away by flooding or crushed by ice jams are cluttering up the newsfeeds, social media and through word of mouth. While dozens of bridges have been affected, here’s a list of casualities involving all bridges regardless of age and type that have come in so far. They also include videos and pictures. Keep in mind that we are not out of the woods just yet, and the list will get much longer before the floodwaters finally recede and the snow finally melts away. For now, here are the first casualties:

 

Bridge Casualty List:

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Trolley Bridge with its two missing spans. Photo taken by Chris CJ Johnson

Trolley Bridge in Des Moines, Iowa: Spanning Beaver Creek north of I-35 between Iowa’s State Capital and nearby Johnston, this railroad trestle with two deck plate girder spans used to serve a trolley line going along the creek to the northwest. The line and the bridge were converted into a bike trail in 2000. On Wednesday the 13th, an ice jam caused by high water knocked over the center pier, causing the two deck plate girders to collapse. Two days later, the spans floated down the river with no word on where they ended up. No injuries reported. It is unknown whether the bridge will be rebuilt.

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Highway 281 Bridge in Spencer, Nebraska: The Sandhills Bridge, spanning the Niobrara River was built in 2003. The multiple-span concrete beam bridge is located south of Spencer Dam. It should now be reiterated as a „was“ as the entire bridge was washed away completely on Monday the 11th.  A video shows the bridge being washed away right after the dam failure:

 

 

 

 

 

The main culprit was the failure of the Spencer Dam, caused by pressure from high water and ice. It is unknown when and how both the failed will be rebuilt, even though sources believe the bridge will be rebuilt and open by September.

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Carns State Aid Bridge in Rock County, Nebraska: This Niobrara River crossing consists of five arch spans, a Parker through truss and a Pratt through truss- both of them were brought in in 1962 to replace a sixth arch span and several feet of approach that were washed away. The bridge ist he last surviving structure that was built under Nebraska’s state aid bridge program and is listed on the National Register. It may be likely that a couple additional spans will be needed as the south approach going to the truss span was completely washed away in the floods. Fortunately, the rest of the bridge is still standing.

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Photo taken by an unknown photographer

Sargent Bridge: Residents in Custer County, Nebraska are mourning the loss of one of its iconic historic bridges. The Sargent Bridge was a two-span, pin-connected Pratt through truss bridge with Howe lattice portal bracings supported by 45° heels; its overhead strut bracings are V-laced with 45° heels as well. Built in 1908 by the Standard Bridge Company of Omaha, using steel from Illinois Steel, this 250-foot long span was no match for large chunks of ice, floating down the Middle Loup River, turned the entire structure into piles of twisted metal. This happened on the 14th. While a photo showed only one of the spans, it is unknown what happened to the other span. One variable is certain: The loss of this historic bridge is immense.

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Photo taken by J.R. Manning

Green Mill Bridge near Waverly, Iowa: Time and wear took a toll on this two-span bowstring through arch bridge, which spanned the Cedar River between Janesville and Waverly. A product of the King Bridge Company, the bridge was part of a three-span consortium in Waverly when it was built in 1872. 30 years later, two of the spans were relocated to a rural road northeast of Janesville, where it survived multiple floods, including those in 1993 and 2008. Sadly, it couldn’t survive the ice jams and flooding that took the entire structure off its foundations on the 16th. Currently, no one knows how far the spans were carried and whether they can be salvaged like it did with the McIntyre Bridge in Poweshiek County. The Green Mill Bridge was one of only two multiple-span bowstring arch bridges left in the state. The other is the Hale Bridge in Anamosa.

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Photo taken by John Marvig

Jefferson Viaduct in Greene County, Iowa: The Raccoon River trestle features a through truss span built by Lassig Bridge and Iron Works and trestle approach spans built by the both Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Works and the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Company. The 580-foot long bridge used to serve a bike trail until Friday the 15th when ice took out several feet of trestle approach. Fortunately, the through truss span is still in tact. Given its location though, it may take months until the trestle spans are replaced.

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DM&E Fall Colors

Photo taken by Jerry Huddelson

Turkey River Railroad Bridge at Millville, Iowa: This railroad span, located near 360th Street in Clayton County, has not had the best of luck when dealing with flooding. The two-span through truss span was destroyed in flooding in 1991 and subsequentially replaced by three steel girder spans. Two of them were washed away in flooding in 2008 and were replaced. Now all three spans are gone as of the 15th as flooding washed them all out. The rail line, owned by Canadian Pacific, has been shut down until a replacement span is erected with the freight trains being rerouted. It does raise a question of whether having a span in a flood-prone area makes sense without raising the railroad line.

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Dunham Park Bridges in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: One of the first cities hit by ice jams and flooding, Sioux Falls was almost literally underwater with floodwaters at every intersection and street as well as the Falls being converted into an apocalyptic disaster, resembling a dam failing and the waters of the Big Sioux River wiping out everything in its path. One of the hardest hit was seen with Dunham Park as floodwaters washed away two mail-order truss bridges almost simultaneously. A video posted in social media on the 14th showed how powerful the floodwaters really were. The bridges were installed only a few years ago. It is unknown if other bridges were affected as crews are still battling floods and assessing the damage. It is however safe to say that the park complex will need to be rebuilt, taking a whole summer or two to complete.

There will be many more to come, as the weather gets warmer, accelerating the snowmelt and making the situation even more precarious. We will keep you informed on the latest developments. But to close this Newsflyer special, here’s a clip showing the raging Big Sioux River going down the Falls in Sioux Falls, giving you an idea of how bad the situation is right now:

 

 

That in addition to a reminder to stay away from floodwaters. Signs and barricades are there for one reason- to save your life. Think about it.

 

Our thoughts and prayers to families, friends and farmers affected severely by Mother Nature’s wrath- many of them have lost their homes and livelihoods and are in need of help. If you can help them, they will be more than grateful…… ❤

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

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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.

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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.

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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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Reconstruction of Green Bridge Set to Begin

Fifth Avenue/ Jackson Street Pedestrian Bridge in Des Moines. Photo taken in August 2013
Fifth Avenue/ Jackson Street Pedestrian Bridge in Des Moines. Photo taken in August 2013

City Council Approves Plan to Restore Vintage Bridge and Key Des Moines Landmark

DES MOINES, IOWA- It was only two years ago that the Fifth Avenue Bridge, an 1896 product of local bridge builder George E. King, was fenced off to all cyclists and pedestrians, and the Des Moines City Council was seriously considering tearing the entire structure down, which is a National Register Landmark.

At about this time next year, this bridge will be reopened, and connections between downtown and the southern part of the city will be reconnected again. 🙂

The Des Moines City Council yesterday approved the proposal to restore the bridge, which will consist of narrowing the bridge deck to 14 feet, adding observation decks and providing LED lighting. It will include some work on the superstructure, which includes strengthening truss points and repainting the entire bridge, while removing debris from previous flooding.

The cost will range between $1.75m and $3.5m, according to information by the Des Moines Register, yet $2.3m has been raised privately through fundraising efforts by Friends of the Green Bridge, with donations from the City Council, the Polk County Board of Supervisors and a grant by the Iowa State Recreational Trails. The Meredith Corporation hired a contractor to inspect the bridge and provide a report, while raising $200,000 for the bridge as well. A list of other key contributors can be found here.

Contract will be let out in the next week with the project expected to begin next Spring. Should all run as plan, the bridge will be open by the Fall, thus reintegrating it with a well-knit Meredith Bike Trail network, which snakes through Des Moines along the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers, while providing direct access to the parks in the north, the State Capitol Building and the suburbs to the south and west, just to name a few. With the Iowa Cubs Baseball Stadium located at the confluence of the two rivers, it may provide people with an incentive to bike to the baseball game instead of driving the car there.

In the face of the upcoming demolition of the BB Comer Bridge in Alabama and flood damage to the recently restored Riverside Bridge in Missouri, the Green Bridge success story is bucking the trend, providing hope for other bridge preservationists to save their bridges. This includes the Green Bridge in Waverly, located 140 miles NE of Des Moines, where residents are fighting to have the bridge fixed and reopen to traffic. The success story in Des Moines will perhaps provide more leverage for the cause.

More information will follow on the restoration of the Green Bridge with a story on the Waverly crossing and Riverside Bridge to come soon.

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Mystery Bridge 31: Thacher Truss Railroad Bridge in Waverly, Iowa

Thacher Truss Bridge in background. Photo courtesy of Luke Harden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, the Chronicles did a special on the Thacher truss bridges, designed and patented by Edwin Thacher and first used in 1884 in the state of Iowa. To refresh the reader’s memory, the Thacher truss is a combination of Warren, Kellogg and Pratt truss with an A-frame in the center panel of each truss span. While the Wrought Iron Bridge was reported to have built these trusses, using the exact design prescribed by Thacher, the King Bridge Company built the hybrid version of the design that resembled a Warren truss bridge with a center panel that is half the length of the outer panels.  If you count in the Phillips Mill Crossing in Rockford, the pony truss variant located west of Milford and the three hybrid Thachers in Emmet County, Hamlin County (South Dakota) and near Hastings, Minnesota, a total of ten Thachers were reported to have been built.

With this mystery bridge, as seen in the picture, let’s make it eleven Thachers.

Fellow pontist Luke Harden came across this picture of a Cedar River crossing in Waverly. According to the information, the bridge (which is in the background behind the wagon bridge) served the Chicago and Great Western Railroad and featured at least three spans of the Thacher truss. The bridge was about 400-500 feet long, looking at the picture more closely, with each truss span being about 120 feet long. The bridge served traffic until a train derailment brought down the entire structure in 1914.

Collapse of the bridge in 1914. Photo courtesy of Hank Zaletel

This means that the structure was in place for no longer than 30 years. Even more curious is the fact that the trusses were built using a combination of wood and steel, making the railroad bridge look rather unusual for the materials used for bridge construction. While bridge builders used iron and wood for construction in the 1860s and 1870s, it is even rarer to see a wooden truss bridge built using steel truss support, although one is reported to exist in Allamakee County in the Red Bridge (abandoned for over four decades).

While the bridge no longer exists- a replacement was built but only existed for another 30 years before the railroad abandoned the line and removed the bridge- piers from the structure can be seen from Adams Parkway Bridge, located next to it in the northeast end of the city. Yet more information about the bridge is needed. For instance: when exactly was the bridge built? What were the exact dimensions? Who built this bridge? And lastly what was the cause of the mishap. Any information on the bridge can be submitted using various channels including the comment section of the Chronicles.

Furthermore, information is needed for the Adams Parkway Bridge, for the two-span truss bridge existed before its replacement in 1968, yet its markings is similar to a bridge built by the Clinton Bridge Company at the turn of the century, including the portal bracings. Both bridges will be included in the Iowa Truss Bridge book, which is being compiled by the author even as this article is being posted. Any information would be much appreciated.

With this latest discovery, it leads to the question of how many other Thacher truss bridges were built in Iowa, let alone in other parts of the US. We’ll find out more as other pontists and people finding old photos will bring bridges like this one to the attention of the readers and other interested people alike.