Listed on MDOT's website is this unusual bridge which is a bit
south of the nearby Trowbridge Road Bridge.
Compared to Trowbridge Road, this bridge is much simpler in appearance. The
bridge is still very much an attractive bridge. Architectural treatment is shown
in the arrangement of rectangles on the railings, as well as the beams
themselves. The railings are curved at the ends of the bridge to add to the
decorative effect. The piers have fancy little concrete brackets at the top
which provide a visual transition from beam to pier.
MDOT's website provides a good narrative for the history of
This bridge has been maintained in a better fashion than the
Trowbridge Road Bridge, and the railings are in decent shape. The railings are
likely in better shape because of the protective white cement paint put on them.
Even more recently, a repair project was undertaken for the bridge in 2007. Some
of the visible work being done included expansion joint replacement and deck
repair at the ends of the structure.
The Derby Road Bridge was built as part of a major reconstruction of
Woodward Avenue a few blocks to the west. Woodward was among the first
improved roads in the state. Made into a corduroy road in 1817, it
extended northwest from the nascent town of Detroit to Six Mile Road.
When Pontiac was founded further to the northwest two years later, the
trip from there to Detroit took two days.
The city and county consistently improved the route, and some parts were
paved with concrete for the first time in 1915. But by the late 1910s,
pressure was building to significantly upgrade Woodward Avenue from
downtown Detroit to Pontiac. During this period, Detroit expanded its
municipal boundary from Six Mile Road to Eight Mile Road. The city made
plans to widen and pave Woodward in this section, but as Wayne County
Road Commissioner Edward Hines noted: "No sooner has an improvement . .
. taken place than the road immediately becomes congested."
In addition to burgeoning commuter and pleasure traffic, many of the
automobiles produced in Pontiac and Flint were driven to dealers. Hines
concluded: "All the history of the past shows that our failures have
been due to underestimating the future rather than in overshooting the
In an aggressive move to get ahead of the demand, the road commissions
of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, together with the Rapid Transit
Commission of Detroit and affected local governments, coordinated their
efforts to create a region-wide master plan for road improvements. In
1923, they succeeded in getting the state legislature to pass the "Wider
Woodward Avenue Bill," which committed the state to share with adjacent
communities the costs of transforming Woodward into a "superhighway"
between Detroit and Pontiac.
The state highway department's 1931-1932 biennial report describes the
many impediments it faced while procuring the necessary 200-foot-wide
right-of-way: "The Department has been confronted with almost every
conceivable obstacle in the widening of this highway, including the
removal of scores of business blocks and residences in Royal Oak, the
moving of portions of three cemeteries in Ferndale, the shifting of
7-1/2 miles of Detroit United Railway tracks and the removal of the 9
mile section of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad between Royal Oak and
Bloomfield Center. By far the biggest obstacle encountered was the
removal of the Grand Trunk Railroad to a location approximately
three-fourths of a mile east."
The railroad only agreed to cooperate after a lively legal and political
battle. Then, lawsuits from Oakland and Wayne Counties challenged the
constitutionality of the arrangement, which was finally resolved in the
state's favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in March 1930.
Excavation for the tracks began even before the court case was settled.
The Birmingham Eccentric reported on 12 September 1929 that 150 men were
digging a 55-foot cut, "the longest in any section," at Trowbridge Farm.
At the same time, the state and railroad worked on plans for the
eighteen grade separations required by the project. The designs were
apparently prepared by the railroad, since they are unlike standard
highway department construction of the period. A. Guthrie & Company, a
contractor from St. Paul, Minnesota, finished sixteen of the structures
in 1930, but did not complete the Trowbridge Road Bridge until fall
1931. Ultimately, the relocation of the railroad tracks cost about $7
Statement of Significance
The Derby Road Bridge is eligible for the National
Register as a representative product of a massive engineering project
that affected developmental patterns in Detroit and associated
communities to the northwest. The Derby Road Bridge is also noteworthy
for its false-arch design.
Most of the grade separation structures built as part of the Grand Trunk
project carried the railroad over vehicular traffic. In only a few cases
did a road pass over the tracks, and most of these structures have
experienced significant modifications that have damaged the integrity of
their original design. The Trowbridge Road Street Bridge, also in
Oakland County, is another of the rare well-preserved products of the
Grand Trunk project, and it, too, is eligible for the National Register.
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