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At first glance, this bridge might appear to be like one of the other deck truss bridges in Chicago like on Ohio Street, which shares the common trait today of serving as a glorified expressway onramp, and also of being owned by IDOT instead of CDOT. However if you look at the trusses and see how the diagonals follow a v-pattern, it becomes clear that this bridge is using a Warren truss configuration. The Warren truss configuration is not unusual in general, but the Pratt configuration is used on all the other highway deck, pony, and deck-pony combination truss bascule bridges in Chicago and Cook County, with the exception of the Harlem Avenue Bridges. Similar to the Harlem Avenue Bridges, the Congress Parkway Bridge is actually two bascule bridges side by side. For comparison, the Michigan Avenue Bridge also is designed as two bridges parallel to each other as well.
Despite being one of Chicago's younger bridges, this bridge should still be considered historically and technologically significant. It is technologically distinguished for its unusual design consisting of two bascule bridges side by side. It is historically significant as one of only two examples among the deck truss bascule bridges in Cook County that follow the Warren truss configuration.
Planning for a bridge at this location was taking place as early as 1939 with the publication of "A comprehensive plan for the extension of the subway system of the city of Chicago : including provision for the widening of E. and W. Congress Street" by the Chicago Department of Subways and Traction. The full document can be found here. Three designs of bridge were considered including a bascule bridge (of somewhat different design than the bridge seen today), a vertical lift bridge, and a fixed arch bridge.
The superstructure contractor for the bridge was the Overland Construction Company of Chicago, Illinois. The electrical contractor was Garden City Engineering Company. The Simpson Construction Company was responsible for building the bridge tender houses.
This bridge was named the Wagner Memorial Bridge following the death of powerful 14th Ward Alderman Clarence P. Wagner (1904-1953) in a car accident.
In April 2010, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) initiated a $33 Million rehabilitation project for this historic bridge to ensure it will remain a safe and functional historic landmark for years to come. If the price tag seems high, this is simply because it is a movable bridge, and a fairly wide one too. Movable bridge projects are always dramatically more costly than fixed bridge projects, whether a repair or replacement project.
The rehabilitation project was a comprehensive project that included repairs and repainting, and it should dramatically extend the service life of the bridge. It appears to have been a well-designed project that will be respectful of maintaining the original materials and design of the most important parts of the bridge, most notably the trusses as well as the bridgetender buildings. The only loss of historic integrity is a minor one that is not of great concern with this bridge which is the replacement of the floorbeams and bracing. Other highlights of the project included a new roof and windows for the bridgetender buildings, replacement of deck stringers, and installation of a orthotropic deck. Orthotropic decks are a relatively new type of deck that show excellent potential for use in vehicular use historic bridge preservation work because they are strong, yet lightweight. Orthotropic decks eliminate the need for deck stringers by creating a load-bearing deck which is capable of transfering local live loads to adjacent floorbeams without the need for deck stringers. The new orthotropic deck replaces the steel grate deck on the Congress Parkway with a solid deck surface which means that a drainage system can direct water on the deck away from the truss superstructure. Metal grate decks can be problematic, particularly for deck truss bridges, since they allow moisture and salt to freely drain onto the superstructure, which results in deterioration. It is expected that the installation of the orthotropic deck with a directed drainage system will greatly reduce the rate of deterioration in the superstructure. The new deck should also provide a more comfortable ride quality and also offer greater traction.
As part of the rehabilitation project, the bridge was repainted. However it remained the same light grey color (which it has had since approximately 1990) and was not painted with the Maroon color that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has been painting all of its bridges (including the Chicago L) with in recent years. The Congress Parkway Bridge is owned by IDOT and not CDOT, and IDOT decided to stay with the light grey because they find it easier to inspect the bridge, since the details on the bridge including any rust will be easier to see. However, the light grey paint color also seems appropriate for the bridge's design and location. In the same way that the light grey color allows for easier inspection, it also will allow visitors to easily see and enjoy the complex details of the bridge's design, and the lighter grey makes the bridge easier to photograph, particularly with a deck truss bridge like Congress Parkway where the trusses do not receive as much light since they are under the deck. Further, having the Congress Parkway Bridge a different color helps set it apart from the other bridges along the South Branch of the Chicago River which highlights the fact that this bridge, with its Warren truss configuration, is unlike the other bridges along this stretch of river.
Overall, this is an excellent rehabilitation project, and it is good to see IDOT committing to those Chicago bascule bridges which it owns, thus complimenting the commitment to preservation that CDOT has demonstrated for its historic bascule bridges in the downtown area. One of the things that makes Chicago so special is that it has been able to maintain these historic bridges such that they continue to beautify and enrich the culture of the city, while also acting as functional infrastructure in the heart of America's third largest city.
It should also be noted that the iconic Old Post Office building through which Congress Parkway passes directly through immediately west of the bridge is slated to be rehabilitated as well. The building was abandoned by the post office years ago, and is to be reused as a multi-purpose facility including retail on the beautiful first floor. Therefore, the bridge and building which together form a unique scene in Chicago appear to have a bright future.
Dedication PlaqueTHE WAGNER
BY ORDER OF
THE CITY COUNCIL
JULY 13, 1953
TO HONOR THE MEMORY
CLARENCE P. WAGNER
Rehabilitation PlaqueSTATION 380+69.12
REBUILT 2010 BY
STATE OF ILLINOIS
STRUCTURE NO. 016-2445
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View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)
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