Crossing Over

ROAM Magazine

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Let’s be real here: The first thing that comes to mind when you think of bridges is probably something along the lines of overpriced tolls and 30-minute traffic delays during rush hour. Or, if you’re anything like me, bridges might just make you think of those unsettling feelings that surface when you remind yourself that hundreds of feet over water in the middle of two landmasses is the last place you want to be on an exceptionally windy or stormy day. But on a brighter note, let’s think a little deeper and reflect on the real purpose of these man-made marvels that decorate our skies in a very underrated manner. Bridges- in more ways than one- make our world go round. From the times when they were laid with sticks and stones to today’s modern-day architectural masterpieces, bridges have been created with the best intentions and destroyed in the face of some of the worst threats to humanity, and yet the majority have proven to stand the test of time and continue to be enrichments to millions of people everyday day. They shape our economies, join our lands, fuse our people and define our skylines like no other engineering structure out there quite does. And for the most part, they’re everywhere. So take a moment to appreciate these fascinating bridges in some of America’s greatest cities.

St. Petersburg The Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Florida has the kind of past that can clearly be divided into a before and an after. At the time of its original completion in 1954, the Sunshine Skyway was the first structure of its kind to connect St. Petersburg to Manatee County in Florida, but a foggy day in 1980 changed all of that when the 20-ton freighter SS Summit Venture lost control and collided into a main section of the steel bridge during a violent rain squall. What resulted was one of the worst bridge disasters in American history. Over 1200 feet of roadway plunged into the stormy bay because of the collision, causing a Greyhound bus and several cars- totaling 35 people- to tumble 150 feet to their death.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, however, came measures to construct something safer, bigger and, while the engineers were at it, something well, prettier. So in 1987, the modern-day “Skyway to Heaven” reclaimed its former notoriety by opening itself up to traffic yet again, and it can now boast as being not only the first suspension bridge in Florida, or as the largest concrete suspension bridge of its kind in the world at 5.5 miles (it’s as long as Mount Everest is high, if that helps), but as having some of the most spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets in the area.

Pittsburg If you ever find yourself in the great gateway city of Pittsburg one day, chances are, you’ll soon enough find yourself on one of its many bridges too. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. With an official number established at 446 (although it can rise up into the 1000’s, depending on what you define an actual “bridge”), this City of Bridges has more arches, beams, and suspensions rising over rivers and valleys than any other place in the world, including Venice.

And the varieties, it seems, are endless. You have what is probably the most welcoming (and recognizable) of the Pittsburg bridges- the Fort Pitt Bridge- giving one of the best panoramic views of a city around. Then you have the "Three Sisters" -or the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Street bridges-which are the only identical trio of bridges in the entire nation (even though this title was almost ruined when the original Sixth Street bridge burned down in the late1800s because steamboat smoke caused sparrow nests in the beams catch fire). Or, there’s the infamous Smithfield Street Bridge (originally called the Monongahela Bridge), which was destroyed in 1845 during the Great Fire of Pittsburg … along with two-thirds of the entire city. Later rebuilt in 1883 by the same architects of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, however, it now stands as one of the oldest steel truss bridges in the world. Of course, the list goes on (and on, and on), but part of the appeal of this great city is that you never know exactly what bridge you’ll end up on and what stories lie hidden within its steel frame.

Detroit The 1920s in Detroit were a time of growing decadence and development. The Detroit River served as a passageway for timber barges and bootleggers alike, and as the Motor City began establishing itself as a hub for trade and commerce (both legal and illegal), the need for a link between Canada and the U.S. became more evident than ever. So after much debate, planning, and a seemingly fast construction under a private company, the Ambassador Bridge opened up for traffic in 1929, linking downtown Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, in Canada. With a 1,850 foot central span and a total length of nearly 7,500 feet, at the time of its construction, this massive steel structure was (and still is) the longest international suspension bridge in the world. It became such a big deal, in fact, that in the years after its opening, planes would fly under it, people would parachute off of it, and a couple would even be married at its Canada-U.S. boundary line. And although the glitz and glory was often overshadowed by financial problems in the subsequent decades, the Ambassador Bridge has stood the test of time over 79 years and has grown into the busiest suspended border crossing in the world, with over 10,000 commercial vehicles passing through on a typical day, and as many as 10 million in a year. More than anything though, carvings on the bridge remind commuters the real message of this withstanding and unifying structure: “The visible expression of friendship in the hearts of two peoples with like ideas and ideals.”

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