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Steel Structure Trivia: Chicago Bridge Becomes Nonagenarian
Posted by Tasha Weiss on November 30, 2012 at 1:36 PM.


Here’s MSC’s November Steel Structure Trivia question! The steel bascule bridge pictured above is one of downtown Chicago’s busiest pedestrian crossings and celebrated its 90th anniversary yesterday, November 29. Your challenge is to name this Chicago Loop bridge. Photo: Courtesy of 


The steel bascule bridge pictured above is Chicago’s West Madison Street Bridge (also known as the Lyric Opera Bridge). Congratulations to our winners: Matthew Lombardo with McPherson Design Group in Norfolk, Va., Dennis M. with Universal Network Development Corp. and Eric Wheeler with Thornton Tomasetti in Chicago.


Opened to traffic on November 29, 1922, Chicago’s West Madison Street Bridge turned 90 last week.


The design process, which began in 1913, was complicated by the proximity to Union Station and the railroad tracks along the west bank. The city decided to complete the bridges at Jackson Boulevard, Lake Street and Monroe Street first. Construction began in 1920.
The key players for the construction and design of the bridge are summarized on the bridge house plaque (shown right). These individuals and organizations were active on most of the bridges built between 1913 and 1930 — the bridge era most influenced by the 1909 Plan of Chicago.


The ideal bridge aesthetics during this period dictated that deck support be placed below street level where possible. This bridge was the first to implement a rail height truss, an innovation that satisfied aesthetic and structural requirements.


While the current bridge celebrates 90 years in existence, the crossing has actually been in use for the past 160 years with three major types of movable bridges. The original crossing was a movable pontoon bridge built in 1847, followed by swing bridges — the last of which was replaced by the bascule in place today.


Located near both Union Station and the Olgilvie Transportation Center, the bridge is one of downtown Chicago’s busiest pedestrian crossings. Approximately 42,000 people walk across the span each day.


When the bridge opened in 1922, Chicago was a busy port. In the bridge’s early years, it was raised about 2,500 times per year. Now it’s raised about 50 times per year for the annual sailboat migration to and from Lake Michigan. It is estimated the bridge has been raised approximately 48,000 times in its history.


In 1989, the manager of the Lyric Opera of Chicago asked Mayor Eugene Sawyer to re-name a bridge in honor of the Opera’s 35th season. The Mayor obliged and the “world’s largest bridge party” was held in January of that year. The Madison Street Bridge was christened the “Lyric Opera Bridge” in a short outdoor ceremony that saw 2,200 silver balloons released into the sky.


For more information about the Madison Street Bridge, contact Jim Phillips (who provided this commentary) at 312.540.0696, or visit his website, which features multimedia pages for all of the 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, December 28.


backscratcher-007_sitn.jpgThe 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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