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Steel Structure Trivia: Born on Halloween
Posted by Tasha Weiss on October 26, 2012 at 11:13 AM.


Here’s MSC’s October Steel Structure Trivia question! The steel drawbridge pictured above is the youngest of Chicago’s downtown bridges and is the first of the city’s bascules to use box girders instead of trusses to support the leaves. The bridge also celebrates its 30th anniversary this Wednesday on Halloween. Your challenge is to name this Chicago Loop bridge. Photo: Courtesy of


The steel drawbridge pictured above is Chicago’s North Columbus Drive Bridge (also known as the William Peter Fahey Bridge). Congratulations to Chris Baer, P.E., a structural design engineer with Kolberg-Pioneer, Inc., in Yankton, S.D., on being the first and only person to supply the correct answer!


Opened to traffic on October 31, 1982, Chicago’s youngest downtown river crossing will turn 30 this Wednesday on Halloween. The christening of the Columbus Drive/William Peter Fahey Bridge was marked by a brunch for dignitaries, hosted by Mayor Jane Byrne at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the bridge. The family of William Fahey, a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty in February of 1982, was in the first car to cross the bridge. A plaque honoring Officer Fahey can be found on the northeast corner of the bridge.


Columbus Drive was a key piece in the master plan to provide another north-south traffic link across the river between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. This link improved traffic flow and accessibility between the growing Illinois Center and Streeterville areas. In addition, it became the detour that minimized traffic impacts of the Lake Shore Drive realignment project that followed later in the decade.


This bridge used the basic concepts of a Chicago-type fixed trunnion bascule bridge with up-to-date features of the modern era. It is the first of the downtown bascules to use box girders instead of trusses to support the leaves. Technological advances in steel and its fabrication allowed the bridge designers to keep all structural support below the bridge deck — an aesthetic goal for downtown bridges dating back to the city’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.


The Columbus Drive Bridge was in service for about five months when three of the four gears used to raise the bridge were found to be either cracked or broken; it took approximately six months to repair the bridge. Repairs could have been made with the bridge in the down position, allowing traffic use. However, maritime law in effect on the Chicago River at the time gave preference to waterborne traffic, which meant repairs had to be made with the bridge leaves raised–much to the chagrin of the landlubbers. The bridge was lowered for traffic and reopened in October 1983.


The bridge was also designated a Moveable Span Prize Bridge by AISC in 1984. (To learn more about AISC’s Prize Bridge Awards, visit



For more information about the Columbus Drive Bridge, contact Jim Phillips (who provided this commentary, along with Albert Baker, assistant chief engineer of the Columbus Drive Bridge) at 312.540.0696, or visit his website. There you’ll find additional photos and videos of the bridge being raised, as well as engineering drawings. At the website’s left-hand column, you’ll also find multimedia pages for other Chicago Loop bridges.


You can test your steel structure knowledge right here on our MSC website on the last Friday of each month, where a new photo will be posted to the Steel in the News section as our weekly “Steel Shot.” Your challenge is to correctly answer the trivia question provided in the news post, based on what you see in the photo. The next question will be posted at 10 a.m. (Central Time) on Friday, November 30.



The first three people who supply the correct answer will receive an MSC-branded stainless steel back scratcher! You’ll need it to successfully tackle those pesky itches after the trivia pressure subsides. (And check out that telescoping action! Wow!) Its five-fingered curved design reaches from 7 in. to 20 3/4 in. in length.





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