Fort Street Bascule Bridge
Location Name: Fort Street Bascule Bridge (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Bridge (Bascule)
Year Completed: 1922
Builder(s): Bethlehem Steel Corporation and others (designed by the Chicago Bascule Bridge Company)
The Fort Street Bridge over the Rouge River is a pratt deck truss bascule bridge with fixed trunnions on either side. The movement of below-deck counterweights allow the two roadway decks (known as leaves) to raise so that ships can travel up river. This bridge is one of three similar bridges crossing the Rouge River in Detroit; all were built in the 1920s to allow large ship traffic to transport cargoes to and from the Ford Motor Company River Rouge Complex that was recently completed upriver in Dearborn. Of the three bridges, Fort Street was the first to be completed in 1922 at a cost of $383,442. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation was responsible for a large part of the project, though other contractors also worked on the bridge. The bridge is operated by the Wayne County Road Commission (who paid for its construction) under contract from its owner; the State of Michigan.
Designed by the Chicago Bascule Bridge Company, the main span length is 164 feet and the roadway width is 56 feet. Four 100 horsepower motors work together to move four 150 ton concrete counterweights (two for each leaf) that raise and lower the decks of the bridge. The opening of this bridge allows for over 2,100 ships to pass each year. At street level, the bridge carries Michigan State Route 85 (previously US Route 25) over the river. Overlooking the bridge from above are two operator houses where an around-the-clock bridge tender stands ready to open the bridge for marine traffic.
The bridge gained some notoriety in 1932 during the Ford Hunger Strike. Thousands of marchers unable to feed their families during the Great Depression gathered to appeal to Henry Ford for help. When the marchers were blocked by police, violence ensued and five people were killed. A state historical marker on the bridge commemorates this unfortunate event. The rest of the bridge’s story is an unremarkable one of numerous openings and closings; it will be a working bridge to the finish.
The project for the replacement of this historic bridge is well underway. The substructure beneath the bridge stands on clay, far below the river’s surface. The clay has not served as a stable support; each side of the bridge is slowly slipping into the river. In fact, the decks of the bridge have been shortened so they will continue to fit together. The Michigan Department of Transportation has decided to demolish the bridge and complete a new rolling lift bascule bridge at the bridge’s current location. Demolition work has begun and most of the bridge has been removed. As of yet, no plans have been made to preserve the original structure.Sources