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Quercus

I-196 Downtown Bridge(s)

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Between recent discussions in the Grand River thread and continual reporting on the poor condition of American infrastructure (covered brilliantly by Last Week Tonight recently), I got to thinking about the bridges in downtown Grand Rapids, particularly the bridges that carry I-196 over the Grand River. Grand Rapids has its fair share of memorable structures across the river but unfortunately the tallest bridge is, in my opinion, the least inspiring.

8071071494_3fd762f269_c.jpg
(Flickr user flickaway1)

 

3762821755_9328cc8db6_z.jpg

(Flickr user creed_400)

2871936002_6a72660b4c_z.jpg
(Flickr user Eridony)

People don't always buy into the power of physical planning and "placemaking," but I'm a big believer that when major pieces of infrastructure are done well they positively impact property values and instill pride in locals; it can be hard to quantify such instances, I admit. But once a bridge is up you're generally stuck with it for a few decades, for better or worse.

Well, it turns out the bridge in question is one of many U.S. bridges that have seen better days. I found the National Bridge Inventory data to be nearly impossible to sift through, but luckily a fine citizen by the name of James Baughn has made the data quite accessible. According to the data, both the I-196 Eastbound and I-196 Westbound spans were constructed in 1964; not surprisingly, they both have issues, but the eastbound portion carries an overall rating of "structurally deficient." I don't know when the US-131 downtown bridge was originally constructed, but it was completely replaced in 1999 and is in good shape.

So maybe the replacement of the I-196 downtown bridges will happen sooner than later. I'm certainly all for debating the necessity of maintaining full blown interstates through the heart of Grand Rapids, but given recent work on the interstate it seems like this portion of I-196 will be around for a while longer. If that's the case, replacement of the portion of I-196 that crosses the Grand is an opportunity to do something great for downtown GR. The rebuild of US-131 gave us a pretty hum drum river crossing; let's not make the same mistake.

What would you like to see if and when the I-196 bridge is replaced? What style of bridge would be a good fit? Something dramatic? Something with lots of lights?

Things I'd like to see improved upon:

  • Pedestrian access (perhaps as a smaller bridge suspended beneath the main deck). With the river path being expanded additional crossing points would be great. Currently there is no opportunity for pedestrians to cross the river between Michigan / Bridge St and 6th St., a distance of about 1/2 mile. The height of the pedestrian bridge would offer great views of the city and river restoration projects. And most importantly, if you're going to spend the cash on an urban bridge you should make it multi-modal.
     
  • Something memorable to serve as a gateway to Monroe North that everyday citizens would raise their camera to (we here at UP take photos of everything  :camera:). It could potentially raise property values in the area.
     
  • Suspension / cable stay over the river and removal of concrete piers in the water (although incorporating them into the river restoration could be interesting). Fewer piers on land would reduce the division effect of the interstate as well.
     
  • On land, use of the space underneath the bridges. Something that benefits from the shelter like a food truck park and full blown skate park would be great and would help activate the site(s) during odd hours. Right now there's quite a dead zone underneath the bridge.

 

Challenges for the engineers:

  • The eastbound and westbound lanes are at different heights, making a single bridge difficult. Accompanying work on US-131 may be required for certain types of bridges.
     
  • Steep grades.
     
  • Maintaining the interchange with US-131.

Dream big, U.P.!

12993411274_783110c7bc_c.jpg
(Flickr user Captain Kimo photo of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston).

Edited by Quercus
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Ive always thought the same thing, what an opportunity here especially since the westbound bridge needs to be widened. They could go double decker and actually improve safety and ease of the intersection with 131? or at least some kind of aesthetically pleasing higher bridge. With all that happens in that area it would be natural to carry 4 lanes in each direction over the river since two are added and dropped at 131. Pittsburgh and Cincy have a lot of nice bridges although the rivers are navigable. Something like 490 in Rocherster, NY is not.  http://goo.gl/maps/Z4W9N

 

131 S-curve rebuilt was a big mis-opportunity to do something a little nicer! 

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There's a bridge in Richmond, VA with a pedestrian bridge suspended under it. I think I posted it here a few years ago but here it is again. When people are out "pedestriating" they like to travel in loops. The more loops, the more users, the better.

 

8227057151_400096e1ce.jpg

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M-DOT has been positioning the Ford Freeway to be widened for the better part of a decade now.  If you look at the rebuild done on the west side a while back there are giant shoulders that can accommodate another weave/merge, obviously the rebuild on the east side was upgraded.   The problem is not just these bridges but a other sets of bridges that cannot be widened either creating choke points.   I believe this was a prototype freeway when Michigan first started planning and building them, it shows in the short sighted infrastructure that didn't accommodate for growth. 

 

There are another set of bridges over the river, and the stretch of freeway that curves over the westside hills that need to be addressed before the freeway could truly be upgraded.  Starting with the bridges downtown would help but to widen the freeway in that section  you'd not have to only rebuild the bridges, but rebuild the junction as well. 

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M-DOT has been positioning the Ford Freeway to be widened for the better part of a decade now.  If you look at the rebuild done on the west side a while back there are giant shoulders that can accommodate another weave/merge, obviously the rebuild on the east side was upgraded.   The problem is not just these bridges but a other sets of bridges that cannot be widened either creating choke points.   I believe this was a prototype freeway when Michigan first started planning and building them, it shows in the short sighted infrastructure that didn't accommodate for growth. 

 

There are another set of bridges over the river, and the stretch of freeway that curves over the westside hills that need to be addressed before the freeway could truly be upgraded.  Starting with the bridges downtown would help but to widen the freeway in that section  you'd not have to only rebuild the bridges, but rebuild the junction as well. 

 

 

When they started the "fix on I-196" process, I seem to recall the bridges over the river were included in a long term plan (20 years?). I can't find any of that info online anymore.

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I would love to see a Suspension Bridge or something other type of bridge that adds to the fabric of downtown. So many cities have bridges that add to their identity: Pittsburgh, Sydney, London, San Francisco, etc. 

 

Joe

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I'd doubt that MDOT would ever try to do anything fancy with a complete redesign. They just arent that type of organizeation.

 

I would go with an idea I had back when they were rebuilding the S-Curve, where you only need to do 2 things to make these highways less of an asthetic PITA, and more of an property value booster:

 

1) Suspension cables: They can even just be a purely asthetic addition just to make it look a little less meh, but just that alone would be enough to make these bridges look so much more elegant and graceful and will make people want to be around them, not to mention the drive over either will be pleasent for the 5 seconds you are on it.

 

If they seriously make something like a cable-stayed bridge over the river, it will open up so many more posibilities.

 

214924012_56bb947c22_z.jpg?zz=1

 

2) Iron arches at the base of the bridge at its eastern point: This would be for the sake of ground transparancy. Right now it's a solid wall of dirt and concrete that walls-off N.Morone from the rest of downtown. Just making it a series of Iron arches will open that up so at the very least you can see both areas form either side and can walk through.

 

I had wish they had done that with 131 on the west side. If they had, the asthetic and psycological impact of the HW would have been minimized greatly.

Edited by GR_Urbanist
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Mdot has been getting more creative. The new m-21 bridge over the grand river in Ada has an attached bike path and decorative elements. They may ask for local funds to help offset.

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640px-Creissels_et_Viaduct_de_Millau.jpg

 

 

A miniature of the Millau Viaduct in France.  Connect the top of the hill by Spectrum Health with the top of the hill near the Lake Michigan Drive exit.  Yes, connecting to 131 might present issues but I'm sure somebody smart can solve them.

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640px-Creissels_et_Viaduct_de_Millau.jpg

 

 

A miniature of the Millau Viaduct in France.  Connect the top of the hill by Spectrum Health with the top of the hill near the Lake Michigan Drive exit.  Yes, connecting to 131 might present issues but I'm sure somebody smart can solve them.

 

That mimics what I was going to propose: 2 bridges. 1 for through traffic, like above, and one for local traffic that branches off and down that can redirect you to the various downtown exits/131 interchange.

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The suspension bridges all sound nice, but I'm not sure it'll look as nice as envisioned.  Every example I see posted of a suspension bridge whenever this topic has come up throughout the past decade shows spans that are much longer than is needed in GR.  I suppose the viaduct idea could work from hill to hill, but I doubt MDOT would be on board with that plan.  (And say goodbye to any hopes for a cap over 196 connecting Belknap and Michigan Hill if that were the case.)

Grand River sure isn't a creek, but it's not the Mississippi, either.  Are there any examples of suspension bridges with the length that would be needed in GR?  And even if so, would they look good with the two lanes being at different levels from eachother?  I really think suspension would be a complete mess, visually, without completely redesigning the interchange as well from the ground up at least, which depends on what's done with 131 in the future.  So really, it's not just a 196 plan, it's a 196 & 131 plan that needs to happen.

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The suspension bridges all sound nice, but I'm not sure it'll look as nice as envisioned.  Every example I see posted of a suspension bridge whenever this topic has come up throughout the past decade shows spans that are much longer than is needed in GR.  I suppose the viaduct idea could work from hill to hill, but I doubt MDOT would be on board with that plan.  (And say goodbye to any hopes for a cap over 196 connecting Belknap and Michigan Hill if that were the case.)

Grand River sure isn't a creek, but it's not the Mississippi, either.  Are there any examples of suspension bridges with the length that would be needed in GR?  And even if so, would they look good with the two lanes being at different levels from eachother?  I really think suspension would be a complete mess, visually, without completely redesigning the interchange as well from the ground up at least, which depends on what's done with 131 in the future.  So really, it's not just a 196 plan, it's a 196 & 131 plan that needs to happen.

Certainly doesn't need to be a suspension bridge. But something better then the minimalistic, boring version we have now would be nice. It's almost as unsightly as the Buffalo Skyway.

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The Menai Suspension Bridge in Wales is a nice example. The longest span is 577 feet:

 

1280px-Menai_Suspension_Bridge_Dec_09.JPhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menai_Suspension_Bridge

 

Grand River sure isn't a creek, but it's not the Mississippi, either.  Are there any examples of suspension bridges with the length that would be needed in GR? 

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I think we are starting to get a little ambitious for our "not that wide" river. 

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The river in Toledo is way wider than the Grand. It's actually a shipping port.

 

Whatever they do, it must have WAVES! Nothing iconic in West Michigan without WAVES.

 

11238189866_c9de63413e.jpg

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The Grand River may be channeled down to 500 ft wide through downtown, but it's still a significant waterway. I like the idea of pushing a suspended span up the hill a bit. Even if you just spanned between Scribner Ave and Monroe Ave you'd need a 1,000 ft span.

Millennium Bridge in Montenegro (460 ft):

1926004-millennium-bridge-over-moraca-ri

Puente del Alamillo bridge (820 ft):

alamillo-bridge.jpg

Tyne Bridge (1,200 ft):

N005_473898204.jpg

The Zakim-Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston I posted earlier is 1,400 ft long with a center span of 745 ft.

Octavio Frias de Oliveira Bridge. Future of the I-196 / US-131 interchange?  :rolleyes: 

Octavio_Frias_de_Oliveira_main.jpg

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I was recently talking with a new friend who works for the engineering firm working on this bridge. I did not ask which firm (we got talking abut this and I forgot to ask), it is the same on that took on the Fix on I-196.

Environmental studies were supposed to be done this month but due to the Snuffbox Mussel they are HOPING to be done by the end of the year.

Sorry guys, nothing spectacular. Due to the different levels and the 131 interchange it is difficult to do too much. But I have pointed her towards this thread for ideas. The project is more about extending the lifespan, not rebuilding it.

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Sorry, double post.

Edited by droonus2000

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I also talked to one of the engineers working on the project last weekend. The only real change will be adding another lane on the south side making it a decel lane for the westbound to southbound 131 ramp. Still only going to be two lanes directly over 131. I don't want to get into a debate over the merits of May ballot proposal but the facts are MDOT doesn't have the money to do any of the suspension bridges desired. Suspension bridges have a high initial cost and a high maintenance cost.v At this point they do not have any funding for this project. Nor do they have funding for SB 131 from Ann to Leonard merge weave lane like they added NB a few years ago. Plans are complete, no money to implement.

Edited by Raildudes dad

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Did your friends give any indication what kind of life MDOT hopes to get out of the bridge after a fix? Another 10 years? 20?

I've heard several structural engineers say that, in general, new bridges will have fewer supports set directly in the waterway due to environmental impacts; having worked on environmental assessments in the past I can't say I'm surprised.

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It will not be a new bridge, just widening on the south side to the SB 131 ramp. Bridges should have a design life of 50 -75 years. These were built in the mid 60's and are holding up pretty well. If they do some good preventive maintenance with this project, they should be good for 50 more.

 

I just was involved with a rehab / restoration of a 90 year old bridge that is used every day with legal loads and it should last another 90 years. (I know they don't build them like that anymore :).

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