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Cedar Street Bridge

Cedar Street Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: March 13, 2009

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Cedar Street Over Red Cedar River, Railroad (CN), South Street
Lansing: Ingham County, Michigan: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1952 By Builder/Contractor: American Bridge Company of New York, New York and Engineer/Design: Michigan State Highway Department

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
85 Feet (25.9 Meters)
Structure Length
953 Feet (290.5 Meters)
Roadway Width
51.8 Feet (15.79 Meters)
15 Main Span(s)
NBI Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

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

Cedar Street Bridge

The Cedar Street Bridge is a state trunkline bridge that is an impressive structure, with its sweeping length and curved design, especially in a state that has very few historic bridges of this length. The bridge features an attractive railing that was Michigan's standard for the period (known by the Michigan State Highway Department as the R4 railing). The bridge serves BL-96, but the road was originally US-127 prior to the construction of the US-127 freeway. It is the main non-freeway north-south road through Lansing. The bridge's largest span over the river is 85 Feet (25.9 Meters) while the remaining spans are 60 Feet (18.2 Meters). The bridge has 2 sidewalks at 6 Feet (1.8 Meters) each. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1997 and 2005.

The bridge was fabricated by the American Bridge Company, a division of United States Steel. This bridge is one of the few known stringer highway bridges in Michigan to bear a fabricator plaque placed on its beams in addition to the typical bronze Michigan State Highway Department plaques located at the ends of the bridge on the railings. The MSHD plaque lists Fry and Kain and Walter Toebe, two different companies as contractors for the structure. Walter Toebe was a very prolific company in Michigan. Building bridges since at least the 1920s, they are still in business today, although the bridges they build today are boring slabs, and nothing like this graceful, sweeping structure.

When the Cedar Street Bridge was built, there also was a bridge built that crosses the Red Cedar river at low-level next to this bridge to carry Beech Street and prevent buildings in the area from being cut off by the new Cedar Street Bridge's long and higher level configuration. This bridge should have also been considered historically significant because it was a part of the Cedar Street Bridge construction project. Sadly however, this bridge was replaced just before this website photographed the Cedar Street Bridge, and thus the bridge is undocumented on this website, nor is it available for visitors to the bridge to see. The replacement at Beech Street is a slab of concrete that is ugly and not noteworthy for any reason.

This bridge is noteworthy as perhaps the only remaining historic highway bridge within the city limits of Lansing, despite a decent number of river crossings in the city. It is unclear why so many bridges have been demolished and replaced within Michigan's capital city. Either way, as the last historic highway bridge in the city, and as an impressive example of mid-20th Century bridge construction anywhere in the state, this bridge should be considered to be very important locally.

Fortunately, this state trunkline bridge was preserved by MDOT. While MDOT has certainly demolished many historic bridges on Michigan's trunklines (more than they should have) over the years, they also have a historic bridge preservation track record that is considerably higher and further ahead of the game when compared with other state highway agencies such as Pennsylvania's PennDOT and Ohio's ODOT, which offer very few preserved historic bridges on state-owned roadways (trunklines). It is interesting to look at preservation on state trunklines because often traffic is heavier both in terms of weight and quantity, which makes historic bridge preservation more challenging. Ignoring demolished bridges and only paying mind to the preserved bridges, MDOT has set the bar high for other state DOTs, by preserving bridges on busy roads and doing so in a way that respects the historic integrity of the bridge.

The Cedar Street Bridge is a typical MDOT preservation example using techniques that can be seen on other preserved bridges with similar characteristics and features. Most noteworthy: the original railings, the so-called "R-4" style were not removed from the bridge when an update to crash-tested barriers was required. Instead MDOT took the panels and attached them to special crash-tested guardrails. These guardrails feature low-profile steel rails attached to special metal posts that are also designed to hold the historic railing panels behind the crash-resistant rails. This solution meets crash-resistant standards, while making the bridge look almost unaltered when viewed from below. Even on the bridge, the low profile style of the crash railings allows the historic panels to be visible. With a relatively mundane structure type as a steel stringer, it is important that decorative railings be retained on the bridge to keep it looking attractive and historic. MDOT's solution is a good compromise between integrity and modern standards for crash-resistant barrier systems.

The steel stringers for the bridge are painted grey and retain good historic integrity. Original riveted diaphragms are visible under the bridge. The substructure (piers and abutments) also appears to be in good condition and original.

This bridge was surveyed in MDOT's historic bridge inventory, and a good history of the was composed from this. Read MDOT's findings below.

Information and Findings From Michigan Historic Bridge Inventory

Narrative Description

This long bridge crosses an industrial area, three sets of railroad tracks, a city street, and the Red Cedar River. I-96 BL, formerly US-127, is known locally as South Cedar Street. Standard State Highway Department railings with metal panels between metal posts edge the roadway, terminating at concrete endposts. Railings also top the long, sloping wing walls. Raised concrete sidewalks run on both sides of the roadway. A bridge plate is affixed at the southeast corner.

Congestion on trunkline routes in Michigan's urban areas had become a concern for the state highway department during the 1930s, when traffic studies funded by federal work-relief programs highlighted the problems caused by urban traffic snarls. Projects to address this issue were delayed by World War II, but the Federal Highway Act of 1944 provided substantial financial assistance to begin plans for upgrading key routes.

In Lansing, where traffic problems were a personal frustration to state legislators and highway officials, there was a major post-war initiative to improve four of the eight trunkline routes serving the capital city. To the south, these efforts focused first on US-27/M-78 (Main Street, now I-496), where improvements by 1950 included a nine-span steel-girder bridge over railroad tracks and the Grand River, and a new grade-separation structure carrying the road over US-127. The highway department then focused on the Red Cedar River crossing of US-127, just to the south of the upgraded intersection.

This crossing had long played an important role in the community. Lansing's first bridge, built of logs, spanned the river here by 1842. The bridge was constructed to provide access to the north side of the river, where Lansing was developing, and served the stagecoach route to Jackson. The first bridge was carried away by a flood and replaced with a frame bridge in 1852. A covered bridge was built in 1866, was rebuilt in 1890 without the roof, and remained in use until 1909, when a concrete-arch structure was erected.

Plans to build a bridge to replace the early twentieth-century structure were announced by State Highway Commissioner Charles M. Ziegler on 1 January 1951. Rather than simply replacing the earlier structure, the department undertook a far more substantial project by eliminating the at-grade crossing of railroad tracks south of the river that had long been the source of delays for vehicular traffic. Plans for the "huge bridge separation," according to the Lansing State Journal, included fourteen 60-foot spans and one 85-foot section, measuring nearly 1,000 feet altogether. Combined with the embankments that elevated the roadway to the bridge, which provided at least 22 feet of clearance for the trains, the total project extended about 2,300 feet.

The structure's two 25-foot roadways were separated by a two-foot concrete curb, with six-foot sidewalks edging the structure. In addition to moving utility lines, the project also required relocation of a Grand Trunk Railroad control tower and construction of a small three-span bridge over the Red Cedar River for access to businesses on the eastern end of South Street, which would be isolated by the grade separation's substructue. While the Grand Trunk and New York Central railroads agreed to pay a small percentage of the estimated $1.6-million cost, the federal government funded nearly fifty percent of the project, with the state highway department and the city of Lansing splitting the remainder.
Construction bids were due on 18 January 1951. The scale and complexity of this project, which included a 12-degree turn in the structure's alignment over the railroad tracks, represented a substantial design and construction challenge. The contract was awarded to two Lansing contractors, Fry & Kain and Walter Toebe & Company. Toebe, which had been in business since at least 1928, erected many bridges throughout the state. It does not appear that the project's 1 1/2 year construction schedule was affected by the fire that seriously damaged the state highway department's bridge design office on 8 February. The contractors had installed coffer dams and begun pouring the foundations by June. The dedication ceremony for the structure, which ultimately cost about $2 million, was held on 18 August 1952.

Michigan Roads and Construction reported on the local significance of the improvement: "With the opening of this new roadway, Lansing can look forward to relief from the tremendous congestion which for years had delayed motorists in the south end of the city." The department's 1951-1952 biennial report highlighted "the reconstruction of South Cedar Street (US-127) as a divided highway and the construction of a combined bridge and grade separation" as "an outstanding feature of the program" to improve trunkline circulation to and through Lansing.


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