How To Save A Bridge

A Step-By-Step Guide

Why Save Historic Bridges?

Historic bridges are a look into our past. They reveal what life was like during a period in history, and help to complete the story of our nation’s history and development. For example, bridges built before the automobile era were designed for a much slower pace of life, and outside of urban areas, bridges were nearly always one-lane. Bridges built after the automobile era began were increasingly wider and also designed to carry increasing weight loads.

Sometimes historic bridges convey more specific information. Iowa has an unusually large number of bridges dating to the 1870s, which is evidence of a rapid increase in settlement of Iowa during the 1870s. Nationwide, the large number of bridges built during the 1930s is often evidence of the increase in public works projects undertaken as part of Depression-related recovery efforts. Metal bridges built during the 1940s are much less common than during other years because of the shortages during World War II. Michigan experimented with uncommon types of concrete bridges during World War II in their effort to quickly build a freeway to speed the production of war materials, while also minimizing the use of steel.

Historic bridges often offer a unique connection to a community’s heritage. For example, metal truss bridges in Pennsylvania often have the name of Pennsylvania iron and steel mills imprinted on them indicating that those mills fabricated the metal. Many of these mills have ceased operation and no longer exist, but a physical connection to this heritage remains in the form of a historic bridge.

By choosing to preserve historic bridges, we choose to ensure that these snapshots of history are not lost. Unlike written texts or photos, preserved bridges are living history: direct physical connections to a period in history.

Historic Bridge Rehabilitation Case Studies

Steps To Save A Historic Bridge

Have Bridge Eligible For or Listed On the National Register of Historic Places

Find out if the bridge is listed or has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

If the bridge is not considered eligible or listed, then it currently is not considered a historic bridge. You can attempt to get the bridge re-evaluated as eligible, or prepare a nomination to have the bridge formally listed in the National Register.

Learn About Any Projects Involving The Bridge and Participate in Section 106 If Possible

Find out if there is a current project involving the bridge, such as a replacement project or a study to determine what course of action to take with the bridge. If there is a project, you should find out the following:

Will Section 106 take place during the project or is it already taking place? If you cannot get a clear answer, find out if there is any federal involvement, including federal funding or involvement with a federal agency such as the coast guard. Any federal involvement in a project means that Section 106 must take place. If Section 106 is taking place, you can participate in any of the opportunities for public input and comment, or you can demonstrate an interest in the project and request to become a consulting party to play a larger role in the process.

It is better to start working to save a bridge before a project is well underway. If a project is well underway, the design for a demolition and replacement project may be complete. Worse, the historic bridge may be the property of the project contractor, and you may have to negotiate for ownership of the bridge. Preservation is not impossible at this late stage, but it is often difficult and normally will require a third party taking ownership of the bridge, and possibly having to relocate the bridge as well.

Seek Out and Organize Community Support

Seek out and organize community support. Saving a bridge requires the support of more than one person. Use any and all means that seems appropriate (news articles, facebook pages, websites, door-to-door canvasing with a petition, etc). Some outlets such as Facebook are good for getting the word out, while other methods like a petition are more useful for demonstrating community interest to the bridge’s owner/agency.

Support Appropriate Preservation Solutions

As you move through the process, find out what preservation solutions might be appropriate for the bridge, such as rehabilitation for continued vehicular use, relocation for pedestrian use, bypass with a new bridge and leave standing in place for pedestrian use etc. On-site visits to the bridge, communication with interested members of the community, and communication with involved agencies may help shed light on this. Don’t waste time and effort fighting for a preservation solution that has little support and/or is not feasible, when other alternatives might be more easily achieved.

Seek A New Bridge Owner If Needed

Some preservation solutions may require a new owner for the bridge. Be prepared to seek out organizations such as historical societies, museums, rails-to-trails organizations, etc to find a suitable owner for the bridge who will take ownership of the bridge to preserve it, either in place or in a new location.

Seek Donations and Fundraising

Some preservation solutions may require donations and fundraising. Be prepared to organize a Nonprofit Corporation 501(c)(3) Organizations which will be able to accept donations and possible grants toward a preservation project. Alternatively, local foundations or other non-profit organizations may be willing to support your efforts and serve as a repository for donations.

The Historic Bridge Foundation Can Help!

If you have questions about the process, need advice, are looking for ideas on how to proceed with your efforts, the Historic Bridge Foundation can help.

Contact the Historic Bridge Foundation

Important Resources

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

National Historic Preservation Act:  Section 106

U.S. Transportation Act — Section 4(f)

FHWA Environmental Toolkit