One bridge spared, two on the way out?

Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia. Photo taken by author during visit in August 2010

Sioux Falls’ local bridge receives a new life; Wheeling Suspension Bridge failing; Sewell Falls Bridge to be razed and replaced

With Sequestration (the process of initializing automatic budget cuts across the border) taking hold on the American way of life with the potential of putting the recovery process in reverse, for many pontists and bridge enthusiasts alike, the last bit of news one could receive are some more bridges either failing or coming down with the wrecking ball. Unfortunately for two key bridges in the eastern part of the US, that may be the case, as the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles presents its newsflyer with the details:

Wheeling Suspension Bridge

Spanning the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia, this wire suspension bridge, built in 1849 with the total length of 1307 feet (main span 920 feet), used to carry the National Road, which connected Cumberland, Maryland with Vandalia, Illinois and was the first road to use macadam for surfacing. It took 26 years to construct 620 miles of highway, the first in the country, but the suspension bridge at Wheeling did not come into being until 1849, with Charles Ellet Jr. designing the bridge. After its collapse in 1854, it was rebuilt by Ellet again and was later reinforced with additional wire cables, including stayed cables designed by Washington Roebling (in 1872), the same person who oversaw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York after the death of his father, John Roebling.  While the bridge was restored in the 1980s to provide local traffic to the city, trouble is now looming for this National Historic Landmark, as inspectors found a snapped cable on the eastern tower of the bridge, prompting officials to close the bridge to all traffic, including pedestrians. The cable was designed to keep the bridge from swaying. How long the bridge will be closed off depends on how the repairs will be made to the bridge, let alone the length of time it will take to get the bridge back into service. It will without a doubt leave people with the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down” in their heads, replacing London with Wheeling. Yet it would create a tragedy similar to the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge crossing in 1940, when “Galloping Gertie” succumbed to 40 mph winds thanks to poor engineering. More news on the Wheeling Suspension Bridge will follow. A link to the bridge closure can be found here.

Note: Wheeling had already lost another historic landmark with the demolition of the Bridgeport Bridge in 2011 after over 20 years’ abandonment.

 

Sewell Falls Bridge coming down

The process of decimating New Hampshire’s historic bridges continues as another bridge is slated for demolition, with no chance to protest the decision. The city of Concord voted on Thursday to proceed with the demolition process as inspection reports revealed that the bridge deteriorated to a point where a complete rehabilitation of the structure would be futile. The original plan had been to construct a new bridge alongside the two-span through truss bridge with riveted connections that was built by a prominent bridge builder, John Storrs, who was influential in the city of Concord, and later became mayor of the state capital. While residents are hesitant regarding the potential to convert the residential street into a major highway, city officials believe that a new bridge is a necessity due to safety and liability concerns. The bridge will remain in its place for another year or so as funding is being collected for the project, meaning it will be in service for people to see until 2015, when the entire city landmark becomes a pile of scrap metal. More on the city’s decision can be found here.

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

McKennan Railroad Bridge receives new life

Of the dozens of bridges that were targeted for demolition, as mentioned in an earlier article in the Chronicles, it appears that this Big Sioux Crossing, located at the former McKennan Hospital Car Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota will be spared after all. Built in the early 1900s, this two-span Howe pony truss bridge used to serve the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad before the company went into administration and the bridge was given to the City of Sioux Falls in the 1970s to be converted into a pedestrian bridge. Despite one of the spans falling into the river during the 1946 Flood, the bridge has remained in service since then. Despite talks to demolish the sturcture, sources closest to the Chronicles revealed that the bridge will be saved thanks to the plans from a local hotel to integrate it into its plans. It will serve as the entrance to the hotel’s terrace, while at the same time, provide access to the city’s bike trails. This is a win-win situation for the city and the developers, especially as the city already has a grand track record for reusing its historic bridges for recreational purposes. Over a dozen historic bridges are still being used as bike trails and other recreational purposes, half of them coming from former railroad lines that had existed prior to 1970. It accounts for a third of Minnehaha County’s number of historic bridges including those along the Big Sioux River. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will provide you with a tour of the region, which will be posted later on the in the spring.

 

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