5 votes

BNSF - Old Galveston Causeway (1912)


North Approach

Photo taken by Nathan Morton in February 2011


BH Photo #193872

Street View 



PDF (67 KB)

Posted by Jesse Sharkoman Berube



Completed in 1912, the Galveston Causeway was built to connect Galveston Island with the Texas mainland. The bridge was needed to replace two railroad trestle structures and a metal truss highway bridge destroyed by a devastating 1900 hurricane.

Built from 1909 to 1912 by A. M. Blodgett Construction Company of Kansas City, Missouri, the Galveston Causeway consisted of a 2455'-0"-long concrete arch viaduct with a central lift span, flanked on either end by long stretches of earthen embankments. The completed structure stretched more than two miles across the bay and included 8,219, -9" of concrete-faced embankments (3,696'-5" on the Virginia Point end and 4,523'-4" on the Galveston end). To form the embankments, earth and sand fill was poured over concrete piles connected by tie rods and stabilized by a concrete retaining wall on the upper slopes. A centrifugal pump driven by a 200-horsepower motor was used to bring the fill three miles through a pipeline from Offats Bayou on Galveston Island to the construction site; two floating concrete plants were used for concrete work. The central viaduct consisted of twenty-eight reinforced concrete arches, of 70'-0" span and 9'-0" rise, with fourteen spans flanking either side of a Scherzer rolling-lift drawbridge.

The drawbridge, which extended 120 feet from center to center of pins, provided a lOO'-O" clear opening for the passage of ships into Galveston Bay. The draw span was designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company of Chicago and fabricated by the Perm Bridge Company of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. As completed in 1912, the drawbridge was one of the largest of its kind in the world. It weighed 3,293,000 pounds, 700 tons of which was steel and the remainder consisting of 500 cubic yards of concrete used as a counterbalance. The lift was operated by two 50-horsepower motors, originally powered by the electric interurban line. To support the drawbridge's enormous weight, a monumental concrete pivot pier was constructed. The 66'-0"-wide structure originally carried a two-lane brick-paved roadway, one electric interurban track operated by the Galveston-Houston Electric Railway Company, and two railroad tracks. Reinforced concrete balustrades form the outside railing and separate the roadway from the tracks.

A 1915 hurricane severely damaged the bridge's long earthen approaches, but left the central portion and its draw span intact. The county replaced the washed-out embankments with concrete arches similar to those in the viaduct's central portion. Reconstructed from 1917 to 1922, the re-built bridge featured fifty-one new concrete arch spans at the north end and twenty-eight at the south. New V-shaped reinforced concrete abutments were also added at either end of the structure. Except for replacement of the draw span in 1988, the bridge has had few alterations over the years. The current structure, extending more than two miles across Galveston Bay, consists of 107 concrete arches and a steel bascule span. In 1938, the Texas Highway Department designed a new concrete highway bridge with a central moveable steel span, built by the Public Works Administration immediately east of the 1912 structure. In the early 1960s, the Texas Highway Department added a new high concrete bridge across the bay and raised the vertical elevation of the 1938 structure to eliminate its moveable span; together these two structures carry Interstate 45. Railway traffic continues to use the 1912 viaduct, but the roadway is closed to traffic.


Original railroad owner was Gould Lines, Harriman Lines & Santa Fe. It had two standard railroad tracks and the interurban track that also doubled as the automobile crossing.

A new single track 124í-5Ē length bascule span was opened in 1988 and the 1911 bascule was removed.

The 1988 Bascule span was replaced with modern 383' lift bridge in 2012. The 1988 bascule was sold, reconditioned and moved to Petaloma CA


Modern lift bridge with concrete arch approach spans over Galveston Bay on BNSF Railway (and former highway)
Galveston, Galveston County, Texas
Open to railroad traffic only
Built 1912, Original Bascule replaced in 1987; 1987 bascule span replaced in 2012 by a lift span
- A.M. Blodgett of Kansas City, Missouri (1912 Arch Contractor)
- American Bridge Co. of New York (1987 Bascule Design/Erection)
- Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC of Birmingham, Alabama (2012 Lift Span General Contractor)
- Cianbro Corporation of Pittsfield, Maine (2012 Lift Span General Contractor)
- Concrete-Steel Engineering Co. of New York, New York (1912 Bridge Engineer)
- Middlesex Companies of Littleton, Massachusetts (2012 Lift Span Designer)
- Modjeski & Masters of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania
- Penn Bridge Co. of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (1912 Bascule Fabricator)
- Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co. of Des Moines, Iowa & Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (As PDM Structural Group; Orange, Texas Plant; 1987 Bascule Fabricator)
- Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Co. of Chicago, Illinois (1912 Bascule Design)
- U.S. Steel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Chicago Engineering Office; 1987 Bascule Designer)
- William Mueser of Moers, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (Engineer)
- Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF)
- BNSF Railway (BNSF)
- Galveston-Houston Electric Railway (G&HE)
- International & Great Northern Railroad (I&GN)
- Interurban
- Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (MKT)
Modern welded through truss lift main channel span with concrete closed-spandrel arch approach spans.
Length of largest span: 383.0 ft.
Total length: 7,930.0 ft. (1.5 mi.)
Deck width: 60.0 ft.
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 12, 1976
Also called
Old Galveston Causeway
ATSF - Old Galveston Causeway
Great Causeway
Approximate latitude, longitude
+29.29736, -94.88624   (decimal degrees)
29°17'50" N, 94°53'10" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
15/316791/3242407 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Virginia Point
8 ft. above sea level
Inventory numbers
NRHP 76002028 (National Register of Historic Places reference number)
BH 48174 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • July 2, 2022: New photo from Jesse Sharkoman Berube
  • July 1, 2022: Updated by Jesse Sharkoman Berube: Added History, imported pictures, added MKT and GH&HR, added HAER document
  • June 13, 2019: New photo from Dana and Kay Klein
  • September 10, 2018: Updated by Brad Smith: Length of longest span
  • August 20, 2018: Updated by Luke: Corrected 1987 bascule fabrictor)
  • December 21, 2016: New photo from Dave King
  • February 5, 2016: New photos from Luke
  • December 6, 2015: Updated by Luke: Added builders per forum comment
  • May 28, 2015: Updated by Luke: Reverted name back to Old Galveston Causeway
  • May 19, 2015: New Street View added by Douglas Butler
  • March 16, 2015: New photo from Luke
  • February 14, 2015: Updated by Luke: Added category "Laced endposts" based on photograph of the original drawspan.
  • April 23, 2014: Photo imported by Patrick Feller
  • July 4, 2013: Updated by Luke Harden: Noted that the Scherzer bascule was replaced in 1989
  • January 14, 2013: Photo imported by Luke Harden
  • June 8, 2012: Updated by Luke Harden: Added lift span builders
  • June 8, 2012: Updated by Nathan Holth: Added builder, span length, original owner, corrected span designations.
  • March 18, 2012: Updated by Craig Philpott: refined description and details.
  • January 4, 2012: Updated by Jason Straub: updated NRHP info
  • February 18, 2011: Added by Nathan Morton

Related Bridges 



Old Galveston Causeway
Posted September 10, 2018, by Brad Smith (gaberdine [at] hotmail [dot] com)

I think a lot of the confusion over the 1988 design comes from the document the 2011 construction manager, BNSF Engineer, & the Engineer from the contractor published / presented.

They refer to the 1988 Bascule as a Scherzer. At the same time they note it was Designed & Built by American Bridge.


By the way: The entire causeway is OWNED by the County of Galveston. It is leased to BNSF until 2110.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted January 19, 2016, by John Riley (JRiley [at] sonomamarintrain [dot] org)

Clarification appreciated Jeffrey! SMART ended up with both plansets and the history of the 1980's bridge replacement was not clear - appeared that much of the original planset was re-used. The Galveston Causeway, now Haystack Landing, bridge is currently finishing commissioning and operating very well.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted December 6, 2015, by Jeffrey Routson (jroutson [at] hardesty-hanover [dot] com)

Clarification: The original 1912 bascule was designed by the Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company. It was a 3-track, single-leaf span located on the north channel pier (by the 1980s only a single track was in service). The 1912 bascule was replaced in 1987 with a single-track, single-leaf rolling lift bascule. It was located on the south channel pier so that it could be constructed while the original bascule remained in service. After the new bascule was completed, the 1912 bascule was raised and secured in the open position and the new bascule was put into service. The 1912 bascule was then demolished. The new bascule was designed by American Bridge Division of US Steel (Chicago Engineering Office), fabricated by PDM Bridge (Orange TX Plant), and erected by American Bridge Company.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted July 4, 2013, by Nathan Holth

I think the bascule bridge that was replaced here to be moved to California was not the original 1912 bascule, or it was severely altered with very little original material left. News articles described the span being moved to California in 2012 as "26 years old" which would put its date at 1986. Moreover, it is unlikely a railroad would buy a 1912 bridge to replace a 1903 bridge.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted June 8, 2012, by Nathan Holth (form3 [at] historicbridges [dot] org)

The designation of the bascule as main span and arch as approach spans is correct. I have adjusted this in the listing, and also added builder, span length and other info. This bascule bridge is listed in Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge Company literature.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted June 8, 2012, by Luke Harden (lmharden [at] iastate [dot] edu)

The main channel span is a truss and I categorized it so the truss is the main bridge and the arches are the approach spans.

Old Galveston Causeway
Posted July 31, 2011, by Bridgehunting Texas (aaron [dot] mightypenguin [at] gmail [dot] com)

Bridge incorrectly described as Through Truss design. It is in fact a Closed Spandrel Concrete Arch equipped with a Single Leaf Bascule Lift Section of Through Truss Design.