2017 Year In Review

If this year could be summed up in a phrase, it would be: Gravity is a harsh mistress. Idiot truck drivers, arsonists, record-setting flash floods, and plain old neglect led several historic bridges to fall victim to gravity's relentless pull.

On the brighter side, 2017 saw the restoration of four bowstring truss bridges, all relocated to public parks where they can be enjoyed. It also brought the long-awaited completion of several bridge projects that we've been following for years, including Dodd Ford Bridge in Minnesota, War Eagle Bridge in Arkansas, and the venerable Burnside's Bridge at Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.

Here is a look at some of the more important developments of the year. (I apologize in advance if I've overlooked your favorite bridge project.)

Year of bowstrings

Four bowstring bridges from the late 1800s are now open to pedestrian traffic in their new homes in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Ohio.

  • Springfield Bridge - The oldest known bridge in Arkansas, this 1874 King Iron Bridge Co. span has long been a high-priority for historic preservationists. This award-winning project relocated the bridge from Cadron Creek to an easily accessible location in a city park at Conway, Arkansas.

  • Sandy Watkins Park/Old Augusta-Turtle Creek Bridge - This ca. 1880 truss, likely built by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co., was relocated from Bracken County to Henderson County, Kentucky.

  • McCool's Creek Bridge - This bowstring pony truss, a ca. 1869 King Iron Bridge Co. creation, had been relocated a few years ago to Carrollton, Kentuky, but it took until this summer before it was re-decked and made available for public use.

  • Lisbon Bridge - This 1872 Massillon Bridge Co. span has been restored, providing pedestrian access to the fairgrounds in Lisbon, Ohio.

Bayonne Bridge progress

With a price tag of nearly $1.7 billion, the project to raise the deck of the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate taller cargo ships is likely one of the most expensive bridge rehabilitation projects ever undertaken in the United States. After a new, higher roadway deck was opened to traffic, the original lower deck was removed. This phase was completed in June, providing 215 feet of vertical clearance instead of the 155 feet of the original design by Othmar Ammann and Cass Gilbert.

With so many other major bridges in the New York City metro area in the process of being demolished (Goethals, Tappan Zee, Kosciuszko), at least the Port Authority decided to keep this bridge. They had considered replacing it from scratch with a new bridge or tunnel, or even demolishing the old bridge and not replacing it.

Other successful projects

  • War Eagle Bridge (Benton County, Arkansas) - This 1907 Parker through truss (with makeshift Kingpost-ish approach spans) was rehabbed and reopened to traffic in October following a two-month closure. Sitting next to a picturesque mill, the War Eagle Bridge is part of an important Arkansas tourist attraction.

  • Burnside's Bridge (Washington County, Maryland) - Built in 1836, this stone arch bridge played a key role in the 1862 Battle of Antietam. In April, the bridge was reopened to pedestrian traffic following a $2.2 million restoration project.

  • Dodd Ford Bridge (Blue Earth County, Minnesota) - This 1901 Camelback through truss was re-dedicated in June. The addition of a small roadside park, including observation deck and interpretive signage, is the cherry on top of this project.

  • Broadway Avenue Minnesota River Bridge (St. Peter, Nicollet County, Minnesota) - A peculiar two-span skewed Pennsylvania truss built in 1931, this state highway bridge has been restored and reopened to traffic. Although the bridge project led to major traffic headaches, the end product is a beauty, and should handle modern traffic demands for decades to come.

  • Stony Brook Bridge (Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey) - Built in 1792, this is New Jersey's oldest bridge open to road traffic. Following a partial collapse in 2016 from flooding, the bridge was successfully reconstructed in 2017, and now it is back to carrying traffic on US 206.

  • Gospel Street Bridge (Paoli, Orange County, Indiana) - It didn't take long for a lost truck driver to turn this 1880 wrought-iron through truss into a pile of twisted metal. Two years later, however, the span has been completely restored. It is expected to be officially reopened on Jan. 3, 2018, following a small delay while "headache bars" are installed -- a prudent idea for sure.

  • Dodge Street Pedestrian Overpass (Omaha, Douglas County, Nebraska) - This steel girder bridge won a 1969 prize for "Most Beautiful Bridge" from the American Institute of Steel Construction. On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, a campaign successully raised enough funds to rehab this pedestrian/bicycle crossing above a busy highway.


As mentioned before, natural and man-made disasters conspired with gravity to destroy several bridges this year:

  • Flash flooding during the spring across southern Missouri sent the Meramec River to new heights, completely wiping out Bruns Bridge in Franklin County, a wrought-iron Pratt truss built 1888 by the King Iron Bridge Co.

  • The same rainstorm also wiped out James Bridge, a two-span pony truss in Ozark County. The force of the water flipped one of the trusses upside down.

  • This was an appalling year for hurricane strikes as Harvey, Irma, and Maria ganged up on Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The Houston area saw unbelievable rainfall amounts from Harvey, but that was just a warm-up for the catastrophe that Maria brought to Puerto Rico. In addition to the many homes destroyed, the lives lost, and the never-ending power outages, the island also saw many villages cut off from the world as a large number of critical bridges were wiped out. Puerto Rico has an interesting collection of historic bridges, especially unusual truss bridges following European rather than American-style designs, but details at this point are rather sketchy about how they fared.

  • Following years of neglect, the Dimmsville Covered Bridge of Juniata County, Pennsylvania, succumbed to gravity and collapsed in April.

  • In Missouri, a completely forgotten Parker through truss near Mill Spring in Wayne County collapsed in March. Somehow this bridge had escaped my notice despite being clearly visible in aerial imagery. This kind of thing makes you wonder how many other historic bridges -- forgotten, surrounded by private property -- are on the verge of succumbing to gravity's icy grip.

  • As for man-made disasters, one of the "Bridges of Madison County" was destroyed by arson in April. The Cedar Bridge, itself a reconstruction of a bridge destroyed by arson in 2002, was set fire again. Three teenagers have been charged with arson in this year's burning. In December, a grant was awarded to construct version 3 of the bridge.

  • Arson also struck the Carrollton Covered Bridge in Barbour County, West Virginia.

  • Truck drivers lacking common sense were out in full force again this year. The Gilliece Bridge (1874 bowstring) in Winneshiek County, Iowa, collapsed after a driver attempted to cross it with a grain truck far excess of the posted 3 ton weight limit.

  • In December, a farmer attempted to drive a tractor with a disc ripper attachment across the O'Neal Bridge in Boone County, Indiana. The attached farm implement was wider than the bridge, and that's not a good thing for a through truss. At last report, the wreckage of the bridge is being salvaged with the long-term intention of reconstructing it.


As with any other year, a large number of significant bridges were replaced and demolished. In no particular order:

Here's to hoping for a better 2018!

Comments  (1)

2017 Year In Review/update: some good news for Tappan Zee Bridge
Posted December 31, 2017, by James McCray (jamesinslocomb [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Seems like the TZB is going to be reused in some way. So that's at least not all bad. See: