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Grosse Ile Free Bridge

Grosse Ile Parkway Bridge

Grosse Ile Free Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

Bridge Documented: August 1, 2005, October 11, 2009, and June 2, 2011

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Grosse Ile: Wayne County, Michigan: United States
Structure Type
Metal Rivet-Connected Camelback Through Truss, Movable: Swing (Center Pier) and Approach Spans: Metal Deck Girder, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1931 By Builder/Contractor: Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company of Chicago, Illinois
Rehabilitation Date
Main Span Length
340.0 Feet (103.6 Meters)
Structure Length
1,024.0 Feet (312.1 Meters)
Roadway Width
20 Feet (6.1 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 10 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

Additional Information: Although many sources report a 1932 construction date for this bridge, further research into local newspapers indicated that the bridge opened to traffic on September 3, 1931. This research also found some interesting discussions. Apparantly, there was a plan around this same time to build a concrete cantilever arch bridge similar to the Belle Isle Bridge to connect the island to Canada as well. This obviously never happened.

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

There are two bridges, both historic swing truss bridges, that provide motorists with access to Grosse Ile. The other bridge is the Grosse Ile Toll Bridge, which is privately owned and is funded through a small toll paid to cross the bridge. This bridge in contrast is owned by the Wayne County Road Commission, and does not cost anything to cross. As a result, the bridge is often referred to as the Free Bridge. As can be expected, this bridge is far more busy than the toll bridge. However, as a public bridge it is also subject to the flawed funding systems of transportation funding found in the federal, and state levels of American government that encourage deferred maintenance and discourage spending on repair and maintenance. Despite this, overall, the bridge has been maintained better than the average historic truss bridge. However, the bridge is not maintained in the same pristine condition as the Toll Bridge. One oddity with the Free Bridge is that in 2007 the deck was replaced. During this project the original railings on the swing span were replaced with modern Armco guardrails. The approach railings (not original) were also replaced. However, no painting was done to the truss. It may have not needed a complete blast cleaning and repainting, but the bridge definitely could benefit from a spot painting. Painting is one of the most important ways to prevent deterioration of a metal truss bridge.

This bridge is an impressive 1932 swing camelback through truss bridge with a Pratt configuration. 1930s truss bridges are extremely rare in Michigan, and so the massive members and two-lane nature are quite an unusual sight in Michigan. Extensive v-lacing and lattice is present on members and bracing. Original vehicle guardrails are lattice also, and until replaced in 2007 were unaltered. Pedestrian railings are Michigan State Highway Department standard railings, which were commonly seen on the 1930s truss bridges when they were built, and they are also unmodified. The bridge in New Boston also has this standard plan railing. The bridge has a bunch of deck plate girder approaches at each end. Multiple plaques on the bridge describe the various contractors involved with the bridge.

The steel for the bridge was fabricated by Duffin Iron Company of Chicago, Illinois. Rossen, Evans, and Rossen of Chicago, Illinois are noted as engineers on the shop drawings for the bridge.

Drone video showing the bridge operating for boats can be seen here. 

The previous bridge at this location was also a railroad truss bridge, but it was a iron Post truss. Even back when this previous bridge was replaced, it would have been an uncommon bridge as Post truss bridges were never very popular. A photo of the previous bridge is shown below, as is a drawing showing the previous bridge in the plans for the current bridge. When the current bridge was built, the old piers were reused, with additional piers added for the shorter approach spans of the current bridge. As of 2019, this history has proved troublesome as the older piers have begun to deteriorate. Drivers may notice the deck has "humps" as they drive over, since it appears the older pier may be slowly sinking. Additional controversy in recent years has arisen by the owner, Wayne County, failing to perform required inspections at the schedule required by law. As of 2019, a Design/Build project is being developed to address the deteriorating bridge's substructure. It remains unclear if the bridge's historic swing span truss, and/or its historic riveted deck plate girder approach spans are at risk for demolition. The trusses and girders themselves remain in good condition.



Information and Findings From Michigan Historic Bridge Inventory

Narrative Description

This bridge was the last through truss swing bridge to be constructed in Michigan. It has ten steel girder spans, each 118 feet long, and a single camelback through truss swing span 340 feet in length, yielding a total length of 1350 feet. This structure was originally built for the Michigan Central Railroad by Augustus J. Dupuis Company of Detroit.


Photo Galleries and Videos: Grosse Ile Free Bridge


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Bridge Photo-Documentation

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Bridge Photo-Documentation

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View Video

Westbound Crossing

Full Motion Video
Note: The downloadable high quality version of this video (available on the video page) is well worth the download since it offers excellent 1080 HD detail and is vastly more impressive than the compressed streaming video. Streaming video of the bridge. Also includes a higher quality downloadable video for greater clarity or offline viewing.


Maps and Links: Grosse Ile Free Bridge

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Bridgehunter.com: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

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HistoricBridges.org Bridge Browser: View listed bridges within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of this bridge.

2021 National Bridge Inventory: View listed bridges within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of this bridge.

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