The Airline Road Bridge, constructed in 1931, at first glance appears to be a bridge that is exactly what one would expect to find for a 60 foot bridge in Michigan built between 1926 and 1932. At a casual glance, it appears to be a steel stringer bridge with concrete facade on the outermost stringer giving it the appearance of a concrete bridge. It also appears to have the typical concrete balustrade railing used on bridges of this type built during this time in Michigan. However all of these observations would be false.
The balustrade railing on the bridge does have the standard balusters, but they are contained between concrete posts that are slightly different than the standard because they lack inset rectangles and are essentially flat. Further, there are only five balusters between posts, far less than the usual standard, which normally had between 9 and 12 balusters between posts. These changes give the railings a rather different appearance once these differences are noticed.
Looking underneath the bridge, yet another difference is noted. Rather than steel stringers underneath the deck, there are what appear to be concrete beams which strongly suggest that the bridge is a concrete t-beam bridge rather than a steel stringer. This contradicts the National Bridge Inventory data which does list this bridge as a steel stringer bridge. While it is possible that the bridge is a concrete encased steel stringer bridge, HistoricBridges.org thinks this is unlikely and that an error in the National Bridge Inventory is more likely. Michigan rarely built concrete encased stringers. Further, the very short 20 foot spans of this bridge are more typical of a t-beam bridge rather than a steel stringer.
In conclusion, the Airline Drive Bridge is an unusual variation of the bridge designs that were being built during this period in history. Further, the bridge retains excellent historic integrity giving it additional historic significance. While not an uncommon type old bridge, it certainly is an interesting one because of its oddities.
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