Note: This bridge has not yet been photo-documented/inspected by the HistoricBridges.org team. Narratives are compiled using information and photos offered on the internet. Photo Credit For Above Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldon/ (CC BY 2.0)
This bridge is located far beyond the HistoricBridges.org team's current area of coverage as dictated by limitations in time and funding. However, this bridge has global significance and it is also critically important to understand and discuss this bridge in order to create a clearer context and understanding of various bridges that have been visited and documented by the HistoricBridges.org team in North America. As a result, HistoricBridges.org is offering photos of this bridge from legally available internet sources in order to facilitate the narrative and discussion offered below.
Ponte Hercílio Luz, named after a former governor of Santa Catarina state, is an extremely rare and significant bridge on many different levels. Many people recognize the bridge as the longest suspension bridge in Brazil, giving the bridge national significance. It was also the longest spanning eyebar suspension bridge in the world when built. The bridge was designed by the firm of Robinson and Steinman, the most noteworthy name within the firm being David Steinman, a renowned bridge engineer most well known for his engineering the Mackinac Bridge. The largest and most prolific United States bridge contractor, American Bridge Company, constructed the bridge. The eyebar suspension bridge includes a central suspended span, but the arm spans are not suspended and are instead supported by Warren deck truss spans with riveted connections. Approach spans are supported by complex steel bents. Deck trusses, stiffening trusses, and bents are all traditionally composed and include built-up beams that have v-lacing and lattice.
Steinman and American Bridge worked together to create Ponte Hercílio Luz, a highly unusual bridge that was innovative for its time. It is this unusual innovation that gives the bridge significance on a global level, the Ponte Hercílio Luz distinguished today as the only surviving example of three bridges that were built around the same time with suspension spans of nearly exact same design. The other two were the St. Marys Bridge and the Silver Bridge, both crossing the Ohio River between the Ohio and West Virginia. The other two bridges are discussed later in this narrative. These three bridges were very similar both in engineering design as well as cosmetic appearance, and all were unusual and noteworthy for several reasons. The Ponte Hercílio Luz is the oldest of these three bridges, and thus its design likely serves as a guide for the other two bridges.
One of the most noteworthy features of Ponte Hercílio Luz (and all three of these bridges) is that the main cables are eyebars rather than wire cables. Eyebar suspension bridges (often called chain bridges), were nothing new, but the use of eyebars for suspension bridges had largely died out by the time these bridges were built in favor of stronger and more reliable wire cables, and in fact many would have considered the technology of eyebars to be old and antiquated at the time Ponte Hercílio Luz was built. Most eyebar suspension bridges date to before 1900, and are located in Europe, such as the Hammersmith Bridge. However, for these three bridges, including Ponte Hercílio Luz, eyebars were selected because there was a need to make economical use of materials at the time. Eyebars were determined to provide equal strength for less material, and there was an opportunity to try a special heat treating of the eye bars.
The other unique feature of these bridges, and perhaps the most visually striking feature, is the configuration of the stiffening truss. The stiffening truss is a tall, through truss design. At the ends, the truss follows a straight slope upward, similar to a polygonal truss bridge, however when the rising truss meets the sinking cable toward the center of the span, the suspension eyebar actually becomes the top chord of the stiffening truss, and as such, the top chord of the truss follows the shape of the cable at the center of the bridge. This unusual design was also likely done in the name of efficient use of materials.
Finally, the design of the towers was unusual. Among the three bridges, the towers were cosmetically nearly identical, with large lattice bracing and a arched design above the roadway. They also shared an extremely unusual engineering design. The towers were designed as "rocker towers" meaning that the towers themselves could rock on a massive movable bearing to allow for the natural shifting of the bridge. This differed from the more traditional (and accepted) practice of designing a bridge with rigid towers and a movable bearing at the cable/eyebar saddle on top of the tower.
It is unusual to identify bridges so far apart from each other, indeed on other sides of the globe, that were so similar in appearance and design, and were associated with the same engineers and contractors. As the last surviving example of these three unusual bridges, and also as the original example, Ponte Hercílio Luz is historically and technologically significant on an international scale.
For those familiar with the history of famous and infamous bridges events in the United States, seeing Ponte Hercílio Luz is like seeing a bridge back from the dead. Ponte Hercílio Luz is one of three bridges that were built around the same time and to the same design, the other two being the St. Marys Bridge and the Silver Bridge, both crossing the Ohio River between the Ohio and West Virginia. Of these three unusual bridges, perhaps the Silver Bridge is the one that stands out in the minds of many since it collapsed in 1967 due to a failure of a single eyebar in the suspension chain, resulting in the deaths of 46 people. Recall that these three bridges were built to make efficient use of materials, and so eyebar redundancy was reduced from what had been done in the past. Even eyebar suspension bridges far older than the Silver Bridge, such as the Hammersmith Bridge and other surviving eyebar suspension bridges in Europe exhibit far more redundancy, with multiple eyebar catenaries and even the individual eyebar catenaries made up of many individual eyebars.
Following the collapse of the Silver Bridge, the St. Marys Bridge was demolished. No effort was made to find a way to safely retrofit and repair the historic St. Marys Bridge to correct its design deficiencies, even for use as a pedestrian bridge next to a replacement vehicular bridge. As a result, only Ponte Hercílio Luz was allowed to remain standing, although it was closed in 1982 due to safety concerns, and again in 1992. Fortunately, the historic significance of Ponte Hercílio Luz has been recognized, and the bridge is to be repaired and reopened as a historic bridge.
The collapse of the Silver Bridge brought sweeping changes to surface transportation policy in the United States, resulting in mandatory inspections of all bridges in the country every two years, and the creation of a catalog of all bridges open to the public in the country regardless of owner in a National Bridge Inventory designed to track the condition of all bridges in the country. The National Bridge Inventory enhanced bridge safety in the country, but it would become equally important for historic bridge research and documentation, since locating and identifying bridges worthy of documentation became an easy and thorough task thanks to this inventory.
Ponte Hercílio Luz is strikingly similar in appearance to both the St. Marys Bridge and the Silver Bridge, with the major exception being that only the center span is suspended on Ponte Hercílio Luz, whereas the St. Marys Bridge and the Silver Bridge's arm spans were also suspended. As a result, only the center span of Ponte Hercílio Luz displays the unusual stiffening truss detail, where as in the Silver Bridge and St. Marys Bridge it was present on the arm spans also.
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