Steel in the News
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Posted by Tasha Weiss on October 10, 2012 at 9:17 AM.
Last Friday marked 75 years of service for Chicago’s N. Lake Shore Drive Bridge.
When the steel bridge opened on October 5, 1937, the dedication ceremony was attended by tens of thousands and served as part of a year of celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s incorporation as a city.
“Chicago–the city of broad shoulders and big heart–has finished another job,” remarked then-mayor Edward J. Kelly at the dedication ceremony of the bridge, which at the time was called the Outer Drive Bridge. “The struggles, the years and work of planning, the boundless energy and courage of Chicago’s builders to complete the longest bascule bridge in the world is a thrilling record of cooperation and conquest.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt also spoke during the festivities, and the bridge was renamed the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge in his honor in 1982.
At the time of construction it was the widest, longest and heaviest double-leaf bascule bridge in the world, and was part of a larger plan to build a major highway through downtown Chicago to facilitate traffic flow in and out of the city. The original crossing consisted of two bascule bridges: the current double-leaf bridge at the Chicago River and a shorter span single-leaf bridge over Ogden Slip. The bascule over Ogden Slip was removed and replaced with a fixed bridge in the mid-1980s in a project that added the lower deck to the double-leaf bridge and straightened the original S-curve in the realignment of Lake Shore Drive.
The bridge has the heaviest leaf weight of all the Chicago Loop bridges (each leaf weighs 6,420 tons) and the highest traffic flow in the city with a daily traffic count of more than 114,000 vehicles. In its early years, it was raised 2,100 times annually. Today it’s raised about 50 times a year for the annual migration of sailboats and the occasional convention-related dinner cruise. Over the course of its life the bridge has been raised approximately 38,800 times.
This massive gateway into the city received some notoriety in 2004 when Richard Dorsay was found using the bridge as a home. He had built a shelter between the beams and girders under the deck and was reportedly was able to tap into power for a space heater, TV, microwave and video games. He was found and evicted in December 2004.
For more information about the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, contact Jim Phillips (who provided this commentary) at 312.540.0696 or visit his www.chicagoloopbridges.com website. There you’ll find additional photos and videos about the bridge, as well as engineering drawings. At the website’s left-hand column you’ll also find multimedia pages for other Chicago Loop bridges.