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Ask Chicagoist: What's Going on with the North Avenue Bridge?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Jan 12, 2007 5:20PM


I was wondering if you could tell me more about the North Ave Bridge. When the old one is coming down? How it is coming down? Is a barge coming to pick up the old bridge? What the new one is going to look like? When the project is complete?


2007_01_askbridge.jpgHi Adam,

The North Avenue Bridge, located around 1200 W. North Ave. in Lincoln Park, seems to be involved in one of those perplexing situations where a cool historical structure just wasn't cutting it in terms of traffic — 50,000 vehicles per day — in the area. So, the powers-that-be, after probably really not all that much thought and deliberation, decided that the trunnion bascule bridge needed to go, and a bright and shiny new suspension/cable-stay hybrid bridge needed to be built. Interesting note for coincidence collectors: the old bridge was built in 1907, and the new one is set to be completed in 2007.

The dismantling of the old bridge should be complete no later than February 28. According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security / U.S. Coast Guard report warning mariners of the project, "all demolition activity will be conducted from land. No equipment shall be placed in the waterway." So the bridge isn't being taken away intact, it's being ripped up and hauled off.

The bridge was offered up (as is required by law) to other cities and towns, but no one wanted it. We assume it was advertised via Craigslist: "gently used historical bridge for sale, cannot deliver, you must pick up." Unfortunately though, when no one claimed the bridge, the decision was made to demolish it instead, rather than preserving it somewhere in the city.

Before the dismantling of the old bridge and the building of the new bridge, a temporary bridge was built last September in order to maintain the flow of traffic in the area.

Architecturally speaking, Chicago was the key place in the development of the trunnion bascule bridge, and is apparently known as "the bascule bridge capital of the world." The North Avenue Bridge was one of the oldest. The first one, the Cortland Street Bridge, is still standing and was in fact recently restored even though it no longer raises for passing boats. The bridge is constructed of "one or two bridge leaves hinged on opposing riverbanks ... [and] is drawn up by giant trunnion bearings." The North Avenue Bridge, however, hadn't been raised since 1972.

The brand new $21,400,000 bridge, which is being touted as a smaller Golden Gate Bridge, will have two lanes running each way and plenty of clearance below for boats to get by. According to Chicago Architecture, the bridge is "both a suspension bridge, and a cable stay bridge. The center of the main span is held aloft by suspension cables, while the remainder of the roadway is supported by cables which radiate from the towers." It will be Chicago's very first bridge of this type, and in fact one of the first suspension/cable-stay hybrids in the country.

You should be able to drive and walk across the new bridge by fall of this year.

New North Avenue Bridge rendition via Chicago Department of Transportation.

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