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Chicago River Bridges
By Patrick T. McBriarty, Laura Banick, Kevin Keeley, Patrick McBriarty, David M. Solzman
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS Copyright © 2013 Patrick T. McBriarty
All rights reserved.
THE BRIDGES OF THE MAIN CHANNEL
(FROM EAST TO WEST)
The Main Channel extends one and a half miles from the mouth of the Chicago River at Lake Michigan west to the forks, where it splits into the North and South branches. There has never been a fixed bridge across this section of the river, and federal oversight still requires moveable bridges on the Main Channel of the Chicago River.
Originally, the normally slow current of the Main Channel flowed east into Lake Michigan. At Michigan Avenue, it turned south, meandering the last half mile through the lakefront sand dunes before reaching the lake at Monroe Street. The soldiers of Fort Dearborn dug a channel straight through the sand to open the river in 1818, 1822, and 1829, as sand pushed south along the lakeshore by storms and currents repeatedly filled or threatened to close the new channel. In 1833 Congress appropriated twenty-five thousand dollars for the construction of piers to protect the entrance to the river, reaching out into Lake Michigan to create the Chicago Harbor. This permanently opened the river mouth as a harbor in 1834, under the supervision of what became the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Time and again, these piers were extended farther east out into the lake to prevent sand bars from forming that could obstruct the river entrance. Over the decades, the sand built along the north side of the pier gradually pushed the lakefront eastward. This new land, north of the river and east of Michigan Avenue, became what is now known as the Streeterville neighborhood.
The Main Channel was originally 200 to 240 feet wide at the river mouth and varied in depth from 3 to 7 feet. The Corps oversaw improvements creating a natural port and safe harbor for Great Lakes shipping at the southwest corner of Lake Michigan. Chicago's busy commercial traffic made the banks of the river a haven for warehouses, grain elevators, slaughterhouses, lumberyards, and rail lines. The Chicago Harbor and entrance were further improved with the completion of a lakefront harbor in 1893; Municipal Pier (or Navy Pier) was added in 1916, and the surrounding outer harbor break walls were added about the same time. The Corps still oversees harbor improvements and manages the locks at the mouth of the river today. The locks were added in the 1930s to regulate the flow of water after reversing the Chicago River in 1900, which then owed west into the South Branch and, ultimately, down into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Main Channel of the relatively short, narrow Chicago River became one of the most important waterways in the country and the world. Its development went hand in hand with the growth and development of Chicago. Over the past forty years, business along the river has transitioned from railroad, manufacturing, and warehouses to office and residential space. The formerly polluted river is gaining popularity for recreation and tourism, and buildings no longer turn their backs to the river. Not surprisingly, the Main Channel features the most splendid and decorated bridges on the river, celebrating its original role as a harbor and the gateway to Chicago.
LAKE SHORE DRIVE BRIDGES
LOCATION: 400 East, 402 North; Lake Shore Drive runs north and south along the lakefront. It crosses the Main Channel of the Chicago River just inside the locks separating the river from Lake Michigan.
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHT: Originally called Leif Erickson Drive and also Field Boulevard, this most easterly Chicago street was officially renamed Lake Shore Drive in 1946. When it was built in 1937, the Lake Shore Drive Bridge was the longest and widest bascule bridge in the world. It was initially referred to as the Link Bridge because it became the busiest connection between the northern and southern sides of the city.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Lake Shore Drive Bridge in October 1937. This 331-foot, double-deck, double-leaf bascule bridge was designed by the Strauss Engineering Corporation in collaboration with Hugh Young, chief engineer of the Chicago Plan Commission. It provides a 220-foot draw for ships, and its 108-foot-wide roadway provides four northbound and four southbound lanes of traffic. This project included a single-leaf bascule bridge one block north over the Michigan Canal, also known as the Ogden Slip. At the opening ceremony, Roosevelt gave his famous Quarantine Speech announcing the policy shift away from isolationism toward greater international responsibility and insisting on the quarantine of aggressor nations.
Lake Shore Drive sits atop a landfill that extends into the lake as much as a half mile. Extension of the city's lakefront was begun by the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1860s. The IC built a break wall several hundred yards into the lake to protect its lakefront rail lines. The resulting lagoon was later backfilled, much of it with rubble removed from the city after the Great Fire of 1871. The Plan of Chicago in 1909 provided a vision for extensive development of the city lakefront, including the addition of several lagoons and islands.
The plan to develop Lake Shore Drive started in 1926 as part of a huge lakefront improvement project headed by the Chicago Plan Commission. Lake Shore Drive was included in Burnham and Bennett's Plan of Chicago, connecting North and South Lake Shore Drive. The intent was to relieve downtown traffic congestion, enhance the city, and connect Grant Park to Lincoln Park. It involved the input, planning, and cooperation of at least a dozen major stakeholders, including the City, the State of Illinois, several federal agencies, Park Commission representatives, the Department of Public Works, the Sanitary District, the Commercial Club, and the area's two major landowners, the Illinois Central Railroad and the Chicago Canal and Dock Company. This $14 million Great Depression—era project was mostly financed through the sale of park bonds to the federal government, and PWA funds made up the final $2.3 million.
During this time, Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1933, called "A Century of Progress." Preparation for this exposition helped drive the creation of Northerly Island and further cleanup of the lakefront. Afterward, most of the fairgrounds were retained as public parks, yet the Illinois Central would not relinquish right-of-way or portions of land along the city's lakefront dating back to the 1850s (and secured for the railroad by a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln). As a result, two 90-degree turns connected the new bridge with the northern portion of Lake Shore Drive. These turns became known as the Lake Shore Drive S curve.
The final plan for the lakefront created a symmetrical Monroe harbor, anchored by the Shedd Aquarium on the south side and a similar curve of land to the north. Earlier proposals included a high fixed bridge that would provide a 125-foot clearance and a tunnel under the river. It was determined, however, that building two bascule bridges—a double-leaf bridge over the Chicago River and a single-leaf bridge over the Michigan Canal—would be the most cost-effective plan.
The Michigan Canal is a half-mile slip cut out of the lakefront parallel to the river a few hundred yards north. It was once also known as the Ogden Slip due to William B. Ogden's oversight and investment in the Chicago Canal and Dock Company. The company held considerable property on Chicago's North Side and operated out of the Pugh Terminal at 435 East Illinois Street. A single-leaf bascule crossing the slip accommodated commercial ship traffic. This building was later renovated into retail and commercial space in 1990 and renamed North Pier.
Both bridges were originally designed to carry automobiles on the upper deck and train traffic on the lower deck. Trains were never actually used on either bridge, however, and the lakefront train lines south of the river were later depressed to provide a more open park system.
From 1982 to 1986, Lake Shore Drive was reconfigured to remove the S curve. This major road project included the construction of the Columbus Drive Bridge, which opened in 1982, and tied Randolph Street, Wacker Drive, and Grand and Illinois avenues into Lake Shore Drive. The project also replaced the single-leaf bridge over the Michigan Canal with a cluster of nine fixed bridges on two levels and finally utilized the lower level of the bascule bridge over the river.
Opening the 12,480-ton double-leaf Lake Shore Drive drawbridge has always been a serious undertaking. Given the amount of traffic on Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Department of Transportation tries to limit bridge openings to no more than fifteen minutes. A bridge-tending crew of at least ten is employed to ensure a safe, smooth lift operation. The bridge sports four bridge towers, though only two house the controls necessary for a lift. A bridge tender and electrician are posted in the southeast and northwest towers to operate each bridge leaf. Additional personnel ensure that pedestrian and vehicle traffic is off the bridge deck, particularly on the lower level, before a lift. There are strict protocols in place, aided by radio communication among CDOT staff. The actual opening and closing of the bridge usually takes only a couple of minutes, and the passage of vessels typically causes most of the traffic delay.
In 2004 an unusual resident was discovered living under the bridge. Richard Dorsay, a homeless man, claimed to have lived under the bridge for three to four years; however, City authorities estimated the occupation to be closer to three to four months. Dorsay slipped into the bridge superstructure from the lower deck and walked down an I-beam to reach a wood shack he had built into the steel beams of the drawbridge. Tapping into the bridge's 110-volt electrical system with extension cords, he was able to power his television, microwave, space heater, and PlayStation, though not all at once. He was evicted and faced charges of criminal trespass on public property, a misdemeanor. Dorsay was later released into the custody of his father, a resident of Burr Ridge. In the meantime, City workers removed the makeshift residence and welded a plate over the entrance to prevent future squatters.
Besides the two Lake Shore Drive bridges mentioned above, there are three additional Lake Shore Drive bridges, over the Diversey Harbor Inlet, the 59th Street Harbor Inlet (just north of Jackson Harbor), and the Jackson Park Lagoon. All of these fixed bridges are made of steel, concrete, and stone. Daniel H. Burnham and C. L. Strobel designed the 59th Street Harbor Inlet Bridge, which was first constructed in 1892 as part of the World's Columbian Exposition. The current 59th Street bridge is a more permanent version of the original design. On either side of the Jackson Park Lagoon Bridge, sculptural reliefs of a ship's prow, Poseidon, and hippopotamus decorate the stonework.
COLUMBUS DRIVE BRIDGE
LOCATION: 300 East, 400 North; Columbus Drive runs north and south. It crosses the main branch of the Chicago River three-tenths of a mile west of the river mouth at Lake Michigan.
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHT: Currently, the Columbus Drive Bridge is the world's second-longest and -widest bascule bridge, exceeded only by the 295-foot Ramón de Carranza Bridge over the Bay of Cádiz in Spain.
The 269-foot-long and 111-foot-wide Columbus Drive bascule is the second-newest Chicago drawbridge. It is a double-leaf Chicago type, and its single-piece box-truss construction is based on the prototype built at Loomis Street in 1978.
The Columbus Drive Bridge fully establishes the box-girder truss as a major construction refinement for modern bascule bridges. Eight trusses, four in each leaf, give this almost quarter-block-long bridge a sleek, streamlined appearance. The trusses were fabricated by U.S. Steel in Pittsburgh and then shipped by barge on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers to Chicago for assembly into the bridge. The box-truss design raised bascule bridge construction to a new level of precision, as the design allows for only one point of adjustment on each truss. Earlier designs used rivet construction and had multiple points of adjustment, whereas the Columbus's leaves had to fit almost perfectly on the first try. Amazingly, the massive leaves of six-lane highway were lowered for the first time nose to nose and were off by less than an inch.
Construction of this bridge went smoothly, but the span has not been without its problems. On April 15, 1983, less than four months after it opened, the bridge had to be taken out of service after a City inspector found cracks in three of the operating gears. Somehow, these forged-steel gears, twenty inches thick and four feet in diameter, had cracked. The drawbridge was opened, severing the connection with street traffic while new gears were manufactured. After eight months, the new gears were installed, and the bridge reopened with little ceremony.
A second incident occurred on May 3, 1984, when the Columbus Drive Bridge balked and refused to open, detaining six sailboats. The binding of the center bolts holding the replaced gears caused the malfunction. The boats were forced to wait for more than seven hours while the problem was repaired. Rerouting traffic created additional headaches for City officials, already in the midst of traffic problems because of the project to remove the S curve from Lake Shore Drive. The new Columbus Drive Bridge offered an important alternative to traffic crossing the river, however, and, since these initial problems, the bridge has provided almost thirty years of reliable service to the City of Chicago.
MICHIGAN AVENUE BRIDGE
LOCATION: 100 East, 365 North; Michigan Avenue runs north and south, crossing the main branch of the Chicago River a half-mile west of the mouth of the river at Lake Michigan.
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHT: The Michigan Avenue Bridge is the most revered and celebrated bridge in Chicago. This iconic Chicago- type bascule bridge was granted landmark status in July 1991, seventy years after its construction, and in October 2010 the bridge was renamed the DuSable Bridge in honor of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable, Chicago's first permanent resident. The proper French spelling and his chosen legal name is Point de Sable, which is pronounced "du Sable" to confound American spelling.
This double-deck bascule bridge replaced the fourth Rush Street Bridge to become a symbol of the city. Associated with the heart of Chicago, it owes its existence to Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's Plan of Chicago. The Michigan Avenue Bridge and the development of the boulevard to connect the city's northern and southern sides were a centerpiece of the Plan of Chicago. The project widened Michigan Avenue from Chicago Avenue to the river south of Randolph Street.
Prior to this decade-long, multimillion-dollar project to improve and widen Michigan Avenue, Rush Street was the city's major thoroughfare. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was estimated that the Rush Street swing bridge carried fully 50 percent of all north- and south-bound downtown traffic. Before 1920 opening this important bridge crossing created a confusion of horse-drawn wagons, automobiles, and pedestrians that defied description. This condition was aggravated by the surroundings: the South Water Street Market stood on the south bank of the river, and the railhead of the Michigan Central and Illinois Central railroads stood to the east; along the north bank of the river was the railroad depot of the Wisconsin Central and Chicago & Galena Union railroads, and east of that were numerous docks and warehouses, adding to the congestion.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, the need for urban and civic planning was so dire that prominent citizens and influential businessmen took matters into their own hands. By 1906 the 325-member Merchants Club of Chicago enlisted architect Daniel Burnham to create a municipal plan for Chicago. The result was Burnham and Bennett's Plan of Chicago. The semipublic Chicago Plan Commission was created to promote the moral upbuilding and physical beautification of Chicago. This included reclaiming the lakefront for the public, improving living conditions, increasing park and public playgrounds, and rationalizing the major transportation arteries of the city.
British architect Edward Bennett was hired to assist Burnham in developing the comprehensive plan. The plan's three sections outlined Chicago's planning history, planning precedents, and physical, social, and cultural environment; presented a future plan for Chicago; and included a means for promotion to gain popular support for implementation. Mayor Busse appointed Charles H. Wacker to permanently chair the Chicago Plan Commission, a nomination approved by the Chicago City Council on November 1, 1909. Over the next several decades, the Chicago Plan Commission would work toward implementing the many civic improvement and infrastructural projects outlined in the Plan of Chicago.
Excerpted from Chicago River Bridges by Patrick T. McBriarty, Laura Banick, Kevin Keeley, Patrick McBriarty, David M. Solzman. Copyright © 2013 Patrick T. McBriarty. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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