By Marion Webber
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The Battle continues over the future of the Pere Marquette Railroad Bridge. The Port Huron Yacht Club applied for the demolition permit in 2012. The club wanted to remove the 86-year old bridge to make room for an observation deck because it purchased a parcel known as Scenic Point. The Yacht club needs permission from the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the bridge’s removal because the upright bridge towers over the Black River, a navigable waterway. The Corps are still reviewing the yacht’s club’s application to tear down the bridge. After the review is complete, the decision will be considered internally before going to the State Historic Preservation Office.
The bridge is one of six remaining bridges built using a unique design patented by Hugo Abt in 1921. Three of the bridges are in Michigan, and three are in California. The Pere Marquette Railroad bridge has been upright and unused for about 40 years. The bridge was constructed in 1931 by the American Bridge Company of New York. The bridge in Port Huron uses a special patented design that, based on research, was only used in eight bridges in the country. The bridge is historically significant because it represents an unusual, rare, patented bridge design and, as such demonstrates, the creativity and ingenuity of bridge engineers of the past.
To highlight what HistoricBridges.com had to say about the construction of the bridge: The ABT bascule bridge type is a variety of trunnion bascule that is distinguished by the unusual and unique operation of the counterweight and also by the unusual motor carriage which drives the bridge. Unlike many bascule bridges which have a counterweight that is rigidly attached to the bascule leaf, ABT bascules are a type where the counterweight is connected by links and pins. This allows for the unusual operation where the bascule leaf and counterweight rotate in opposite directions. Although the bridge is today abandoned in the raised position, and the majority of the paint on the bridge has failed, the bridge’s steel superstructure does not appear to suffer from any advanced deterioration. The rust seen on the bridge appears to be surface rust, meaning that section loss (caused by rust actually eating away at the steel, making it thinner and thus weaker) is not present on the bridge. Additionally, pack rust (caused by rust that forms between two steel plates, bending and spreading the plates apart and thus weakening them) also does not appear to be present on the bridge in any significant quantity. Fixed in its raised position, it is easy for the air to get at the bridge, keeping moisture from building up in the bridge and causing deterioration of the steel. Additionally, the bridge is not subjected to winter deicing salts, a major cause of steel deterioration on highway bridges.
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The Port Huron Railroad Bridge and the nearby Blue Water Bridge are the two rarest and most significant historic bridges in St. Clair County. The Railroad bridge shares more than historic significance with the Blue Water Bridge. Like the Blue Water Bridge, this railroad bridge has also become a Port Huron landmark. While the Blue Water Bridge is undoubtedly the dominant area landmark, it would be hard to imagine Port Huron without this railroad bridge. Located at the mouth of the Black River at the St. Clair River, the bridge is a favorite among area boaters since it is a beacon for finding the mouth of the Black River.
The struggle comes from the people advocating preservation of the bridge, and the Yachts Clubs call for removal that has delayed the decision. Different parties want very different things for that area. The non-profit Friends of the Pere Marquette Bridge submitted restoration plans for the bridge two years ago, which include leaving the bridge where it stands, cleaning it, putting lights on it and renting it from the yacht club for $1.00 a year. The Yacht Club would like to tear it down and build an observation deck to make the property a viable asset to the club and the community.
The U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers said there’s not a timeline for a final decision on the future of the historic train bridge. Collette Luff said, “I’m finishing up my review of alternatives to avoid, minimize, mitigate the adverse effects of removing the bridge from the historic property.” After the reviews are complete, the decision will be considered internally before going to the State Historic Preservation Office. Alternatives to the bridge demolition include doing nothing, preserving the site, moving the bridge and recordation, which would require a historian documenting the site prior to removal. Removing the bridge would destroy the physical characteristics that make it eligible for listing.
The battle continues to this day. At this time it is in the hands of the U.S. Core of Engineers, and then the State Historic Preservation. Who will win? The Yacht Club or the Pere Railroad Bridge?
We would like to thank, and credit www.HistoricBridges.org for their vast historical knowledge on the Pere Marquette Railroad Bridge used to help create this article. They are a great source of information for further reading about bridges around our country.
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