Steel Bridge Reopening 1/3/2011
pat maCdonald Video posted by Robert Thompson
In early 1999, at the presentation of the" Millennium 2000" project toward saving America's treasures, Richard Moe made a statement that sums up the mission our group set out to achieve nearly four years ago. "Not every community has an Independence Hall, but every single community in America has treasures that make it unique, that make it a special place. Saving these treasures is not someone else's job!"
In 1986, Wisconsin conducted an evaluation of its historic bridges, as part of their Historic Preservation Plan, that allowed for the integration of these structures, when possible, into the WisDOT's programs and planning processes. In that plan, twenty four bascule bridges were evaluated for their potential to be listed on the NRHP [National Register of Historic Places]. Our Michigan Street Bridge was one of those twenty four. Jeffrey Hess was contracted to perform the study, and concluded that ten of those twenty four merited NRHP recognition. In 1996, only seven of those ten remained. Three of those were slated for replacement, and three others were considered functionally obsolete. Due to the rapid loss, the SHPO called for a re-evaluation of several of those previously ineligible bridges, Upon further review, the WisDOT developed a Bascule Bridge Inventory of thirteen bridges that met the NRHP's 50 - year age requirement. The Michigan Street Bridge is on that list.
Our Michigan Street Bridge is the only example of an overhead-truss, Scherzer-type, double-leaf, rolling-lift bascule in the State of Wisconsin. The inventory form states, "that overhead truss construction was reserved for movable spans subjected to great stresses. Thus, this method was appropriate for the windy Sturgeon Bay site, the bridge's heavy vehicular use, and the required 140 foot clear span crossing. This span was the largest in Wisconsin at the time of construction." (1931) The other area of historic merit lies in the design of the bascule span itself. It was designed by the Chicago firm of Keller and Harrington, both from the former Scherzer Company, specialists in movable bridges.
In 1994, during an inspection of the bridge, stress cracks were discovered in the rolling and track gears, that were creating stress in the drive gears of the lift spans. In the eyes of WisDOT, this was a significant ailment that left no alternative, but to slate the bridge for replacement, and they then set that plan into motion. In 1995, a band-aid repair was made to the track and roller gear, in order to give the drive gear enough clearance to "operate for the next ten years". In the mean time the Programmatic Process was moving forward, and the WisDOT was negotiating bridge replacement in the City of Sturgeon Bay.
In January of 1997, the Programmatic Agreement had been completed, and signed by all parties involved in its creation. We were unaware of this process at this time, and were only aware of the bridge issue at the local level, and through the WisDOT negotiations with the City of Sturgeon Bay. It was in early 1997 that the DOT presented the "first" public hearing for the 'replacement" of the Michigan Street Bridge. It was also at this meeting that a number of us wondered why they were replacing the bridge, and why it could not be rehabilitated, or restored. We were told at that meeting that it could in fact be rehabilitated, but that the costs of that endeavor would just not be feasible. We then inquired about any evaluations toward rehabilitation that might have been done, that would have determined feasibility. There were none!! II was at this time that we questioned the SHPO as to how this could happen, with such an important icon to the State of Wisconsin.
At this point we researched the Programmatic Agreement, and stumbled into the opportunity to provide objection to the to the process. It is in this process that we found avenues to have a say in what happens to our Historic Bridge, and it Is in this process that we found opportunity. We have found that the weakness in this situation, lies with our own WisDOT, and their steadfastness to hold their ground, and the mis-information they brought to our community. When Richard Moe said that, "Saving these treasures is not someone else's job!", we believe he really meant that it is everyone's job! We believe it is FHWA, SHP, NTHP, SHTP, DOT's, State, County, and City Governments, and the Public, should do everything possible, exhaust all possible avenues, toward saving valuable historic structures, and re-using them in our everyday lives, as well as those of our children. The very idea of replacing a structure as significant as our bridge, our treasure that makes us unique", should be the hardest thing do. Unfortunately, in our experience quite the opposite is true. It is this that we would like to bring to the table and discuss. We have never taken the position of "Save the bridge at all costs", but have been open to getting all" of the information necessary to make the right decision, and then would live by that decision.
Editor's Note:The above paper was written by Shawn Fairchild for the organization, "Citizens for our Bridge, Inc." a 501(c)3 organization that has worked tirelessly to save the Michigan Street Bridge from destruction, including raising funds with a weekend-long annual Steel Bridge Songfest.
Mr. Fairchild presented this paper at the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Acheology, held in Duluth, Minnesota on June 3, 2000. The paper has been reprinted here with the kind permission of Citizens for our Bridge, Incorporated and may not be reproduced without the consent of Citizens for our Bridge, Inc.