|12-07-2005, 05:27 PM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2005
Texas’ Top Twenty Trestles for the Roads Scholar
(There's been a flurry of postings about bridges of late, and a plurality answered the "why do you ride" question with "the relaxation of sight-seeing and geographic discovery". Hope you enjoy this article. Tom)
Texas' Top Twenty Trestles for the Roads Scholar
copyright Tom Shaddox 2005
all rights reserved
unauthorized reproduction in whole or parts prohibited
There are over 48,000 bridges in Texas, the most of any state. Some were designed with impressive brainpower, and all were built with sweat and hard work. There are bridges large and small, made from wood, concrete, stone and steel. Their designs come from every bridge structure family, and they cross Texas’ rivers, lakes, bays, canals and channels. They connect people together, and they let motorcyclists get away.
In the early days of Texas motorcycling, road bridges were rare. A rider parked his Harley-Davidson Silent Gray Fellow or Indian Power Plus at the bank of the ford, and waded across to check the water depth and traction before attempting the crossing on the bike. New bridge openings were a big event for a community, and kicked off a day of speechifying and picnics. A major bridge could secure the economic prosperity of a region. As more and sturdier bridges were built across the state, we began to take them for granted, and now we pass over them every day without a thought.
As I cross Texas bridges, I’ve begun to observe their structures, and think about how that reflects the bridge building science and economics of the period when they were built, and the geography of the local areas. I like to think about the first person to ever ride across a given bridge on a motorcycle, too. Where were they going, and what kind of bike were they on?
Following is a countdown of great road bridges in the state. Each of these bridges is notable is some way: engineering, aesthetics, historical significance, uniqueness or just being a really fun ride. Most Texas motorcyclists will be familiar with at least some of these bridges; but others will be unknown or forgotten. All deserve appreciation as your journeys lead you across them, and any would make a good destination for a ride.
20. Name: Hammetts Crossing
Location: TX3238 over the Pedernales River, Travis County
Type and date: Low Water, 1924
The first step up from fording a river is the low-water bridge. When the water is low, there’s a bridge there, and when the water is high – there isn’t! These are found throughout the state, but for motorcyclists the Hammetts Crossing low water bridge has especially fun approach roads on either bank. Note: Cross with caution or not at all unless the bridge deck is completely dry.
19. Name: Regency
Location: CO433 over the Colorado River, Mill and San Saba Counties
Type and date: Suspension, 1938
Light duty suspension bridges once dotted the state, but there’s only a double handful left these days, and only two that still carry vehicular traffic. The Regency is fairly ordinary from a structural standpoint, but it is a graceful bridge in a particularly scenic setting. There are good spots on either end and from below to take pictures of your buddies riding across, too. Note: Access is on gravel roads.
18. Name: Washington Street
Location: Downtown Waco, over the Brazos River, McLennan County
Type and date: Steel truss, 1902
The steel truss bridge was once the most common type on the Texas main highway system, but many have been replaced or bypassed. The Washington Street Bridge is an early yet large example, and still carries traffic in downtown Waco. Through-trusses are particularly fun to ride across because of all the structure visible above – you go inside them as much as you go across.
17. Name: Bullman
2008 UPDATE - THIS BRIDGE HAS BEEN TORN DOWN AND REPLACED WITH A NEW ONE
Location: CO301 over the Leon River, Hamilton County
Type and date: Bowstring arch, 1884
Early Texas communities built small wooden bridges that were washed away in floods. After the industrial revolution took hold late in the 19th century, longer, sturdier steel bridges could be ordered from bridge factories and shipped to Texas by rail. A few still stand, and the Bullman Bowstring is one of the most beautiful. Note: Access is on gravel roads.
16. Name: Sidney Sherman
Location: Loop 610 over the Houston Ship Channel, Harris County
Type and date: Continuous Plate Girder, 1973
The Sidney Sherman looks like an overgrown freeway overpass – but users of this bridge probably have no idea just how overgrown. With a clear span of 600 feet, it is the US champion bridge of its construction type. While it seems plenty big when riding across, ships have hit the road deck on several occasions!
15. Name: Percy V. Pennybacker
Location: Loop 360 over Town Lake, Travis County
Type and date: Steel Arch, 1982
After several decades in exile, bridge aesthetics made a triumphant return to Texas in the award winning Pennybacker. As a benefit of its good looks, it is quite dramatic to cross on a motorcycle. The designers were said to have chosen a steel alloy that would weather into a UT burnt orange – I don’t want to get anything started, but in certain lights it looks more maroon to me.
14. Name: Harbor
Location: US181 over the Corpus Christi Channel, Nueces County
Type and date: Truss Through Arch, 1959
Sydney, Australia has the Harbor Bridge, and San Francisco has the Golden Gate. In Texas, we have the lovely Corpus Bay Bridge. Riding across, you not only see the bridge’s arching superstructure but fine views of the USS Lexington and State Aquarium to the north and Oceanside Drive to the south.
13. Name: Roma International
Location: Roma, over the Rio Grande, Starr County
Type and date: Suspension, 1928
The most important bridges in the state would have to include those across the Rio Grande, but those spans are by-in-large uninspiring structures. The bridge at Roma is a notable exception. It was built only after the railroads – and taking lots of water for irrigation - ended the riverboat traffic on the Rio. A companion bridge carries the vehicular traffic today, and the old suspension bridge is used for pedestrians. Bonus: Historic downtown Roma is a really cool place.
12. Name: Possum Kingdom
Location: TX16 over the Brazos River, Palo Pinto County
Type and date: Masonry Arch, 1940
The WPA had plenty of cheap labor but little money for materials, so they took a lesson from history and build the Highway16 Bridge out of native stone in the old Roman way. After two millennia, it’s still a construction method that yields a fine bridge: these stalwart rock arches have been inundated during floods with no damage.
11. Name: Brackenridge Park
Location: San Antonio over the San Antonio River, Bexar County
Type and date: Lenticular Through Truss, 1890
Texas is a big place, big enough that we lose things like entire forests of Pines and Maples. The San Antonio area is home to the “lost lenticulars”, the only lenticular truss bridges in the United States west of the Mississippi River. The best one for motorcyclists is in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Park; the lens shaped structure is elevated above the road deck and provides an impressive appearance at the low park speeds. Bonus: In downtown San Antonio, Crockett Street crosses the River Walk on a pony lenticular.
10. Name: Fred Hartman
Location: TX146 over the Houston Ship Channel, Harris County
Type and date: Fan Cable Stay, 1995
In Texas, big = good. With a clear span of 1238 feet, the Fred Hartman is the biggest bridge in the state. The massive double diamond cable stay supports are surely best appreciated from a motorcycle, and in addition to ocean going ships passing beneath, sharp-eyed riders can make out the San Jacinto Monument to the west (Deaf Smith can be glad he didn’t have to burn the Hartman!)
9. Name: Pecos River
Location: US90 over the Pecos River, Val Verde County
Type and date: Deck Cantilever, 1959
The Pecos River cuts a deep gash across the desert between Del Rio and Langtry, and the bridge carrying Highway 90 across is the highest in the state at 273 feet. Be sure to pull out on the scenic overlook to really appreciate this towering cantilever structure.
8. Name: Wagon
Location: US60 & US83 over the Canadian River, Hemphill County
Type and date: Segmented Through-Truss, 1915
An impressive bridge in the Panhandle? Yep! At 3,255 feet total length, the Wagon Bridge in Canadian was the longest truss bridge west of the Mississippi went it was built. Crossing the quicksand of the Canadian River bottoms, it was recently restored and today is open to foot traffic.
7. Name: Jesse Jones
Location: Beltway 8 over the Houston Ship Channel, Harris County
Type and date: Hollow box cantilever, 1982
Selling the Brooklyn Bridge is a long standing financial scam joke. The Texas version is selling the Jesse Jones Bridge – except the Jones really was sold, and for $225 million, about four times its replacement value! That’s Texas-sized money, and makes this arching ribbon of concrete far-and-away the most expensive bridge in Texas. For their money, the Tollway Authority got the third longest hollow box cantilever bridge in the country. Because of its length, ear-popping vertical rise, lack of any superstructure and unusually narrow roadway, the Jones is perhaps the most thrilling bridge to ride across in the state.
6. Name: Queen Isabella Memorial
Location: Park 100 over the Laguna Madre, Cameron County
Type and date: Viaduct, 1954
Most Texas school children could tell you that the 12,500 foot long Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge is the longest in the state. In addition to its champion length, it connects the mainland to South Padre Island – and what more reason would you need to ride it than that?
5. Name: Upper Harbor
Location: Navigation Blvd. over Tule Lake Channel, Nueces County
Type and date: Vertical lift, 1959
A great many of the historic drawbridges in the state have been replaced with “high” bridges rising above the ship traffic. The most impressive drawbridge ever build in the state is still in service, though. At the command of the bridge operators, the Navigation Blvd. Bridge lifts the road deck 138 feet. After riding across, be sure to stick around to watch it do some heavy lifting!
4. Name: Rainbow
Location: TX87 over the Neches River, Jefferson and Orange Counties
Type and date: Through Cantilever, 1938
The Rainbow Bridge in Bridge City has the greatest vertical rise of any bridge in Texas. It was designed in the mid-1930’s to – I’m not making this up – provide clearance for the US Navy’s dirigible tenders, and soars 177 feet above the river. Bonus: the Veterans’ Memorial cable stay bridge stands along side.
3. Name: Waco
Location: Downtown Waco over the Brazos River, McLennan County
Type and date: Suspension, 1869
The queen of Texas bridges is the suspension bridge in Waco. It was easily the most impressive bridge in the state for the first half of its century long service to local traffic, which spanned from cattle drives to air conditioned automobiles. The lovely structure today is open to foot traffic.
2. Name: Sargent
Location: TX457 across the Intercoastal Canal, Matagorda County
Type and date: Pontoon swing, 1964
A “swing bridge” is a type of drawbridge that rotates rather than lifts. But this particular bridge isn’t just a swing bridge – it’s a pontoon bridge, too! How cool is that? It floats on the water it bridges, and the operators swing it out of the way of the barge traffic along the coast. These were once common along the coast, but the pontoon swing at Sargent will be the last such bridge left in the state when a similar one in Matagorda is replaced by a high bridge in a few years. Subtle distinction: “Swinging bridge” is a colloquial term for any bridge that sways in the wind or under load.
1. Name: Bluffdale
Location: CO149 over the Paluxy River, Erath County
Type and date: Fan Cable stay, 1891
Cable stay bridges are all the rage these days. From the boss-of-the-coastal-plains Fred Hartman Bridge over the Ship Channel to the soon-to-be-built “signature” Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, cable stay bridges are built to make a statement. The bridge books say the first cable stay bridge in the USA was built fairly recently, in 1970. Those books are published back east and they’re wrong, of course, for in 1891 Texas bridge engineer William Flinn built a cable stay bridge of his own design at Bluffdale. It served the area as the main highway crossing of the Paluxy River for decades, and stands to this day as a testament to the state’s history of great bridges.
I wrote it - now help your fellow TWTs out with some illustrations! Pictures of you and your bike at these bridges, please! How long will it take to post ride photographs of all twenty bridges?
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