Archive for the ‘bridge’ Tag

Roebling bridges

John and Washington Roebling, the father-son engineering duo, and best known for their Brooklyn Bridge in New York, finished in 1883. They also designed a number of bridges across the nation, here are a few of them.

Starting about 80 miles from New York, across a peaceful Delaware River, is the Delaware Aqueduct, also known as the Roebling Bridge (1849), which used to carry river traffic to relieve traffic on a crowded, busy river. Yes, it’s a suspension bridge, with the tops of the main cable visible at the ends of the bridge. While this once carried water and barges, it’s now been converted into a one-lane bridge. What’s seen today is mostly a remodeling job done by the National Park Service to restore it to its near-original appearance (minus the water).

Roebling Bridge and Delaware River

Roebling Bridge and Delaware River

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge in Wheeling, WV, was the longest span in the world when completed in 1849, linking Wheeling Island with downtown Wheeling. While it has been rebuilt and strengthened over various periods, this is the oldest suspension bridge still in use in the U.S., although only able to handle a limited number of cars on the deck. The original structure was not by Roebling, he had proposed a more conservative structure, but ultimately the design went to Charles Ellet, Jr., who aimed big and designed a large, 1000 foot+ span. After the deck was destroyed during a windstorm in 1854, the bridge was rebuilt. The original deck apparently collapsed under similar circumstances as the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940, attributed to aerostatic flutter that led to the bridge vibrating at its natural resonance frequency. Washington Roebling designed the cables during a remodeling / reconstruction in 1870, and that’s more or less how the bridge has looked since then. The cable design should be familiar to anyone who’s seen a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge. This one is on a smaller scale, but still has an impressive 1010 foot center span, and a nifty asymmetry. The bridge deck level slopes downward in the center towards the level of the island. It’s a worthy part of the National Road (US 40), and one of America’s great unknown structures. The city of Wheeling is a shadow of its former self, but yet might come back.

Wheeling Suspension Bridge from downtown

Wheeling Suspension Bridge from downtown

Looking towards Wheeling Island

Looking towards Wheeling Island

Further downstream on the Ohio River is the Roebling Bridge that links Cincinnati, Ohio, with Covington, Kentucky, this one being the direct ancestor of the Brooklyn Bridge. Finished in 1866, it lacks the Gothic features of the Brooklyn Bridge, but has the signature cable pattern and rugged towers. This one out-spanned the Wheeling Bridge by a few feet, with a center span of 1057 feet. Depending on which way you look, the view of the bridge and the Cincinnati skyline today is little changed from 80 years ago. It was also notable that the construction of the span continued during the Civil War, for military purposes, but could be interpreted as a political move to connect a northern state with a state that did not formally secede from the Union, but had mixed views on slavery, balanced with practical concerns about trade and transportation.

And a view from the top of the Carew Tower

And a view from the top of the Carew Tower

Roebling Bridge, Cincinnati, tower detail

Roebling Bridge, Cincinnati, tower detail

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The George Washington Bridge

This is the only bridge from New Jersey into Manhattan, and the only route that can be walked or biked, accessed by negotiating the tangle of traffic lanes, overpasses, gates, and underpasses that all meet at the toll plaza. Driving from New Jersey, you only see it at the last moment, a shiny steel structure that rises above the Palisades. Walking across is noisy, with traffic rumbling underneath, perpetual traffic jams on the upper level, construction, renovation, exhaust, and an ever-present vibration from the endless streams of lorries crossing it daily. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience. Although walking across is the best way to appreciate it up close, the best view is from the Fort Lee park that presents several vantage points of the bridge, where the traffic and noise are far enough away that the grace of the structure literally shines, 80 years new.

West tower, closeup, the beauty of exposed steel.

Can’t say it better than Le Corbusier: ” The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apron; the second tower is very far away; innumerable vertical cables, gleaming against the sky, are suspended from the magisterial curve which swings down and then up. The rose-colored towers of New York appear, a vision whose harshness is mitigated by distance.

". . . the only seat of grace in the disordered city."

Coal Heritage Trail, West Virginia

I took a drive through a couple of regions of the state, starting with a tour of the Coal Heritage Trail, and then a trip to the New River Gorge region. It’s a beautiful part of the United States, but a state that has fallen off the radar, and to a certain extent, has not recovered from the Great Depression and the decline in American industry over the past 50-60 years.

West Virginia ranks 49th out of the 50 states in income per capita and per household, and the poverty of the state really shows. I counted more mobile homes in one day than in the last 10 years combined, saw plenty of shuttered businesses and abandoned houses, and some aspects of the state do live up to the stereotypes. But that’s far from the entire story.

My first stop was Bluefield, a town on the border with Virginia, which features a notable skyline dating from the 1920’s when it was a boom town; now it’s mostly abandoned and clearly struggling. Just down the road is Bramwell, which is a neatly kept town that featuring the grand houses of millionaires who struck it rich during the boom years of the early 20th century.

Downtown Bluefield, WV

Keystone, WV, with its dominant coal mine

Abandoned house, Kimball

As for coal mining, it’s pretty much absent. I noticed perhaps a couple of operating mines, most notably in Keystone.

Welch and Mullens are hanging on, but Mullens was devastated recently in the flood of 2001. The area is a parallel America, far removed from the busy cities, an isolated, poor enclave in an isolated, poor state. The communities sprawl along the numerous rivers and streams, and now that the economic base is mostly gone, they have been steadily losing population.

Wyoming Hotel in Mullens, John F. Kennedy took lunch here during his 1960 campaign.

The New River Gorge is the most prominent natural feature of West Virginia, an ancient river that cuts a nearly 1000-foot deep gorge as it winds through the state. The small ghost town (or nearly ghost town) of Thurmond lies at river level, brought to life by the railroad, and doomed as the railroad traffic slowed to a trickle. And a word of warning, the planks on the railroad bridge are dodgy, I nearly fell through, and that would have been the end of shredworld!

New River and the bridge into Thurmond

Thurmond, West Virginia, population 7

Further north, the bridge is spectacular, a magnificent steel arch span completed only in 1977 that shaved the crossing time from 45 minutes to 45 seconds. It’s 876 feet above the river, and an awesome piece of engineering.

New River Gorge Bridge