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Wells Street Bridge

   


Wells Street Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: March 26, 2006 - September 11, 2012
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and Videos
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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Wells Street and Railroad (Chicago L) Over Chicago River
Location
Chicago: Cook County, Illinois
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Warren Through Truss, Movable: Double Leaf Bascule (Fixed Trunnion) and Approach Spans: Metal Stringer (Multi-Beam), Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1922 By Builder/Contractor: Ketler-Elliott Company of Chicago, Illinois and Engineer/Design: City of Chicago

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
2013
Main Span Length
268 Feet (81.7 Meters)
Structure Length
345.2 Feet (105.2 Meters)
Roadway Width
38 Feet (11.6 Meters)
Spans
1 Main Span(s) and 4 Approach Span(s)
NBI Number
16605404144

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Documentation For This Bridge

HAER Data Pages, PDF

Wells Street Bridge

About This Bridge

Wells Street Bridge RaisedWells Street Bridge ConstructionThis fixed trunnion bascule bridge and its design is one of the finest and most impressive in the city of Chicago. Along with its near-twin on Lake Street, these are the only two movable bridges along the loop that carry the CTA "L" trains. These two bridges are also the only two double-deck bridges in Chicago that carry trains on one deck and vehicular traffic on the other deck. On both, the trains travel on the upper deck, allowed the already-elevated trains to seamlessly connect to the bridge at this level, while vehicular traffic travels on the lower deck. Sidewalks are also located on the lower deck. The double-deck configuration of the Wells Street Bridge makes for a very massive bridge. Because it is so massive, this bridge is very impressive to watch being raised or lowered. The Wells Street Bridge was built after Lake Street Bridge and as such was an opportunity for the city to improve slightly on its efforts on Lake Street, but overall the appearance of the two bridges is very similar. The Wells Street Bridge is technologically significant for its double-deck design, and also for the fact that it contains the second longest clear span among the bridges along the Loop, with a clear span length of 231 Feet (70.4 Meters).

Like the Lake Street Bridge, the Wells Street Bridge was constructed while not interrupting traffic on the previous bridge, which was a swing bridge. Chicago Engineer of Bridges Thomas Pihlfeldt considered the Lake and Wells Street Bridges to be his greatest achievements, not surprising given the complexity of their design and construction.

This bridge was built in 1922 and is one of the bridges that is historically significant for being associated with the noteworthy Plan of Chicago. The superstructure for the bridge was built by Ketler and Elliot Co., and the substructure was built by Fitzsimons and Connell Dredge and Dock Co. Original electrical equipment was installed by C. H. Norwood. The Fort Pitt Bridge Company fabricated the steel for the bridge.

The Wells Street Bridge continues to serve its original purpose, carrying both vehicular traffic and frequent runs of the Chicago L, specifically CTA's Brown and Purple lines, as well as opening to allow boat traffic to pass.

Previous Bridges

The first documented bridge at this location was built in 1840-1841 as a wooden floating bridge. It was destroyed in an icy flood in 1849 along with bridges at Kinzie, Clark, and Randolph Streets. A Chicago Annual Report of the Department of Public Works states that the bridge was rebuilt in wood by a contractor named "Harper" in 1856. The bridge was again listed as rebuilt in 1862, this time with Fox and Howard listed as contractors. This bridge burned in the infamous 1871 fire. In 1872, Fox and Howard constructed an iron swing bridge at this location. In 1888, this bridge was moved to serve at Dearborn Street, allowing for a new swing bridge to be built by the Keystone Bridge Company in 1888. The 1888 bridge was converted to a double-deck bridge in 1896.

2012-2013 Comprehensive Rehabilitation Project

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) currently rehabilitating this historic bridge with on-site closures beginning in December 2012 and expected completion in November 2013. The time has come, since the bridge is in need of paint and deterioration is apparent in several areas on the bridge's trusses, and the bridge was given low structural ratings in the 2009 National Bridge Inventory (NBI). Fortunately, Chicago is a city that recognizes that low NBI ratings do not actually mean that demolition and replacement is required like many other highway agencies wrongly think. Rehabilitating the Wells Street Bridge will preserve this historic bridge, and will also save taxpayer money since rehabilitation is traditionally far less costly than demolition and replacement. Listen to a podcast interview here, courtesy of The Infrastructure Show. The proposed scope of work for rehabilitation includes:

Considering the above scope of work, particularly in terms of the superstructure, the 2012 rehabilitation of this bridge will be the most extensive rehabilitation project the bridge has received since it was built.

Johnny Morcos provided some additional details about the rehabilitation. Approximately, the five outermost truss panels of each leaf will be replaced entirely. However, with the exception of using bolts instead of rivets, these trusses are to replaced in kind, and historic details such as built-up beams with lattice will be replicated. The more extensive replacement of the center portions of the bridge is similar to rehabilitations elsewhere in Chicago. This is because the trusses in this part of the bridge, due to the design, are less massive and have been more susceptible to deterioration by things like winter salt, leading to more extensive section loss. Originally, the bridge got its operating power as DC current through the CTA electrical systems. During the Wacker Drive rehabilitation that occurred immediately before this rehabilitation project, the southern side was converted to AC power. Now, the north side of the bridge will also be converted to AC power. The existing motors for the bridge are expected to be rewound and reused. A couple of the bridge's existing gears will be replaced, but most will be retained.

A visit to the bridge in December 2012 revealed that the ends of the bridge have been encapsulated, likely for cleaning and painting operations. Signs at the bridge indicate that Walsh and II in One are the contractors involved with the project.

In March 2013, the replacement of the five truss panels of the southern bascule leaf took place. Similar to when the bridge was first built, great priority was placed upon minimizing bridge closure to trains. As such, the replacement truss section was fabricated off site (reportedly in the vicinity of the South Fork of the South Branch Chicago River) and floated to the bridge on barges. The old section was then cut off and replaced with the new section, limiting closure to within a week's time.

A video illustrating the rehabilitation procedure was produced by the Chicago DOT and is available at YouTube here, or an archived version is here for download. Additionally, CDOT produced a video discussing the rehabilitation and is available at YouTube here, or an archived version is here for download.

A visit on April 12, 2013 revealed that the preparation for replacing the northern leaf truss panels was well underway. The new truss panels had already been assembled and floated in on barge, which was sitting next to the Merchandise Mart. The removed section of the southern leaf had been completely dismantled and hauled away, leaving that barge open and ready to receive the section of the northern truss when it is removed.  Workers were still removing things like sidewalk cantilevers and appearing the ream out rivet holes from the truss, in preparation for removing the section of the north leaf truss. On the bridge deck, numerous temporary concrete barriers were in place, which are used to keep the bridge in balance as materials are removed from the bridge, an action which would otherwise bring the counterweighted leaf into a state of imbalance, and could cause a leaf to rise in an uncontrolled manner.

A visit in August 12, 2013 found that installation of the sidewalks was underway. Some of the new sidewalk cantilevers, railing panels, and deck surface had been installed. However, many sections of the bridge did not yet have these items installed yet. The entire bridge was still painted in grey primer.

On November 21, 2013, the bridge was reopened to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Wells Street Bridge Trunnion Installation2012: A 90th Anniversary For The Bridge

 The timing of the bridge's rehabilitation, 2012, occurs in a landmark year for the bridge: February 11, 2012 marks the 90th anniversary for this bridge.

Click here to view a press release article about the anniversary from Chicago Loop Bridges.

John Ericson Chicago City EngineerWells Street BridgeWells Street Swing Bridge

Main Plaque

WM. HALE THOMPSON
MAYOR

CHAS. R. FRANCIS
COMMISSIONER OF PUBLIC WORKS

JOHN ERICSON
CITY ENGINEER
WM. BURKHARDT
DEPUTY COMM. OF PUBLIC WORKS

THOMAS G. PIHLFELDT
ENGINEER OF BRIDGES

HUGH E. YOUNG     ENGINEER OF BRIDGE DESIGN

CHICAGO PLAN COMMISSION

E. H. BENNETT     CONSULTING ARCHITECT

CHICAGO CHAPTER OF AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS

CHICAGO ART COMMISSION

CONSTRUCTION

CLARANCE S. ROWE
ENGINEER OF BRIDGE CONSTRUCTION

SUBSTRUCTURE
FITZSIMONS & CONNELL DREDGE AND DOCK CO.
FRANK A BERRY
RESIDENT ENGINEER

SUPERSTRUCTURE
THE KETLER-ELLIOT CO.

ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT

C. H. NORWOOD

1922

Historical Articles

View An Article About This Bridge From the Journal of the Western Society of Engineers and An Article From Successful Methods

View An Article About This Bridge From The Engineering News-Record

View A Detailed Historical Article From Engineering World With Construction Photos

View An Article From Public Works About The Bridge Substructure Construction

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Historic Bridges of Chicago and Cook County

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Complete Bridge List

Chicago and Cook County are home to one of the largest collections of historic bridges in the country, and no other city in the world has more movable bridges. HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer the most extensive coverage of historic Chicago bridges on the Internet.

Chicago / Cook County Bridge News

October 2015 - Patrick T. McBriarty, author of Chicago's River Bridges, informs HistoricBridges.org that in recognition for the "outstanding and original reference work that will support future scholarship in the history of technology", the book was awarded the biennial Eugene S. Ferguson Prize by the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) at the SHOT Annual Meeting's awards banquet. See press release. This is the third award for this book. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

October 23, 2015 - The Franklin Street Bridge celebrates its 95th Anniversary. Please view this announcement prepared by Chicago Loop Bridges or view it on the Chicago Loop Bridges Website.

September 2015 - Fall Bridge Lift Season is Underway. View Schedule.

May 2015 - Michigan Avenue Bridge celebrates its 95th Birthday this month! Click here for a news article.

October 2014 - A visit to Chicago revealed that the Van Buren Street Pedestrian Bridge was not demolished, but instead extensively rehabbed. The railings are new, but replicate the original design. The concrete encasement was removed and not replaced, and instead the exposed riveted steel beams have been painted. The riveted beams look quite nice, and given the condition of the bridge prior to the project this seems like a good outcome. In other news, the rehabilitation and repainting of the La Salle Street Bridge is ongoing, and the project to extend the Chicago Riverwalk under additional bridges on the Main Branch is continuing.

September 2014 - Chicago's dubious distinction of offering numerous boat tours that pass under the bridges but offer narration only of the buildings has ended with the start of a Wendella tour that focuses on bridges! Information is here.

July 29, 2013 - A project study has been initiated for the reconstruction of historic North Lake Shore Drive. This project puts a large number of historic bridges at risk for demolition and replacement. However, it could also be an opportunity to rehabilitate the bridges. Visit the project website.

May 15, 2013 - The Ashland Avenue Bridge over North Branch Chicago River has been recommended for Chicago Landmark designation by the Chicago Art Deco Society.

April 30, 2013 - Illinois Landmarks has included Chicago's Bascule Bridges as one of their Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. View The Official Page.

General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources

Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.

View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)

Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.

Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.

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Photos and Videos: Wells Street Bridge

Available Photo Galleries and Videos

Click on a thumbnail or gallery name below to visit that particular photo gallery. If videos are available, click on a video name to view and/or download that particular video.

 
View Photo Gallery
Pre-Rehab Structure Overview
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This large collection of photos was taken between from 2006 through 2012, prior to the major rehabilitation of this bridge. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
View Photo Gallery
Pre-Rehab Structure Details
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This large collection of photos was taken between from 2006 through 2012, prior to the major rehabilitation of this bridge. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
View Photo Gallery
Pre-Rehab Structure Overview
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of overview photos that show the bridge as a whole and general areas of the bridge. This large collection of photos was taken between from 2006 through 2012, prior to the major rehabilitation of this bridge. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
Browse Gallery With Popup Viewer
View Photo Gallery
Pre-Rehab Structure Details
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of detail photos that document the parts, construction, and condition of the bridge. This large collection of photos was taken between from 2006 through 2012, prior to the major rehabilitation of this bridge. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
Browse Gallery With Popup Viewer
View Photo Gallery
2013 Bridge Rehabilitation
Original / Full Size Photos
A collection of photos documenting the rehabilitation of this historic bridge. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
View Photo Gallery
2013 Bridge Rehabilitation
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of photos documenting the rehabilitation of this historic bridge View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
Browse Gallery With Popup Viewer
View Video
Raising Bridge, Elevation
Full Motion Video
Taken June 2011. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
View Video
CTA L Train Crossing Bridge
Full Motion Video
Taken May 2012. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.
View Video
Bridge Being Raised
Full Motion Video
Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.

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