Update: Tunnel Through Art Deco Bridge Houses On Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge for Navy Pier Flyover Proceeding

Bike Congestion at Lake Shore Drive Chicago River Bridge Art Deco Bridge House. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Navy Pier Flyover Art Deco Bridge House. Photo Credit: Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune
Navy Pier Flyover Art Deco Bridge House Tunnel Rendering. Rendering Credit: IDOT

The Navy Pier Flyover is an elevated pedestrian and biking path along the Lakefront Trail near Navy Pier. Under construction since 2014, the second and third phases of construction are underway with work scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019. The narrow pedestrian and bikeway along the edge of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge over the Chicago River, commonly referred to as Lake Shore Drive Outer Drive Bridge, ranges between 8- and 12-feet wide and is a bottleneck which frequently causes issues during the summer months when lakefront trail usage is high.

The plan is to widen the pedestrian and bikeway along the edge of the Lake Shore Drive bridge to between 16 and 21 feet to accommodate greater pedestrian and biking traffic. The chosen strategy is to tunnel through the two original Art Deco limestone bridge houses dating to 1937. The contractors will use jack hammers and saws to cut through the towers but intend to avoid disturbing the structural column and support wall along the side of the towers. Most of the $64 million cost of the flyover is being paid for with federal funds. Additional scope of work includes the rehabilitation of the movable bridge over the Chicago River.

Structural repairs will be made to the double-decker bridge. Additionally, the bridge’s mechanical system that raises and lowers the bridge to allow boat traffic will be cleaned and repaired. To accommodate the bridge tunnel in the southern tower, a large bank of electrical equipment will need to be relocated. The total project cost is approximately $25 million.

Preservation Chicago strongly supports investment in infrastructure, especially iconic Art Deco bridges and bridge houses along Lake Shore Drive. We support investment to improve pedestrian and bike access and safety and encourage stakeholders to take every precaution to protect the integrity of the historic bridge houses.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge was completed in 1937 as one of Chicago’s Depression-era Public Works Administration infrastructure projects. It was designed by the Strauss Engineering Company, built by the American Bridge Company , and erected by Ketler and Elliot Company.

“When built, the bridge was the largest bascule bridge in the world. It is the biggest and busiest traffic-wise downtown with a leaf weight of 6,420 tons and a daily traffic count of more than 114,000 vehicles. In its early years, it was raised 2,100 times annually.

“Chicago – the city of broad shoulders and big heart – has finished another job. The struggles, the years and work of planning, the boundless energy and courage of Chicago’s builders to complete the longest bascule bridge in the world is a thrilling record of cooperation and conquest.” Those were Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly’s remarks at the October 5, 1937 dedication ceremony of the Outer Drive bridge.

“President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke during the festivities. The dedication ceremony was attended by tens of thousands and served as part of the year of celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s incorporation as a city. The bridge was renamed the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge in his honor in 1982.” (ChicagoLoopBridges.com)

“This monstrous bridge is an extremely impressive gateway to the city of Chicago for boats. This completion of this bridge was a product of depression relief programs. Although the bridge construction was started in 1929, the depression halted construction until federal aid got the bridge completed in 1937. When it was completed, this massive hulk of a bridge broke all sorts of records. It was the longest bascule bridge in the world, and was also the widest bascule bridge in the world! The lower deck of the bridge also added enough weight to enable each leaf of the bridge to claim the title of heaviest in the world as well! This is a bridge that should be fully experienced by walking on the lower level sidewalk and observing the shear mass of the bridge: four evenly spaced lines of trusses make this the wide bridge it is.” (historicbridges.org)

“Anyone who has walked on the eastern sidewalk of this bridge knows that it is an extremely busy and narrow sidewalk, since in addition to being a normal sidewalk it also carries the popular Lakefront Trail, which is a very popular bicycle route. It is common for bicycles to become entangled with other bicycles and pedestrians on the bridge. At one time, there was a hideous proposal to construct a separate bridge next to the Lakeshore Drive Bridge that would be a dedicated trail bridge. The design was a high level cable stayed bridge and it would have clashed terribly and obstructed the view of the Art Deco beauty of the historic Lakeshore Drive Bridge. As of 2014, another plan has been introduced. This plan would widen the existing sidewalk through an innovative project that would not only widen the existing cantilevered sidewalk on the bridge, but would cut a tunnel through the bridge tender houses, enabling the sidewalk to remain wide at what would otherwise be a choke point in a wider sidewalk. The wider sidewalk would maintain the lane divisions for bicycles and pedestrians found elsewhere on the Lakefront Trail.” (historicbridges.org)

“While obviously this project would alter the bridge tender house, HistoricBridges.org believes this is a good solution and far better than constructing the independent cable stayed bridge. Another benefit of this project is that the railings on the sidewalk would be replaced with railings that replicate the Art Deco design railings that were originally found on the upper deck of the bridge. Those railings were some of the most beautiful railings found on Chicago bridges, and they were unlike the other ornate railings found on other downtown bridges. The replica railings on the sidewalk would be a nice way to bring the architecture of those ornamental railings back to life on the bridge.” (historicbridges.org)

Preservation Chicago strongly supports the continued reinvestment in maintaining Chicago’s historic bridge infrastructure. Additionally, we have advocated for the Landmark designation of all the historic Chicago River Bridges, especially the iconic bridges along the main branch.

Additional Reading
Final phase of Navy Pier Flyover includes tunnels through Depression-era Lake Shore Drive bridge houses, Mary Wisniewski and Jemal R. Brinson, Chicago Tribune, April 22, 2019

North Lakes Shore Drive bridge – opened October 5, 1937, Chicago Loop Bridges.com

Lake Shore Drive Bridge, Outer Drive Bridge, historicbridges.org

Outer Drive Bridge Dedication, 1937, Encyclopedia of Chicago

VIDEO: Franklin D. Roosevelt – Chicago Bridge Dedication Speech (October 5, 1937) WTTW Chicago

AUDIO: Franklin D. Roosevelt – Chicago Bridge Dedication Speech (October 5, 1937)


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