N. Columbus Dr. Bridge 30th Anniversary October 31, 2012

Elevation Drawing of N. Columbus Dr. bridge (courtesy of CDOT Division of Engineering)

The youngest downtown river crossing marked 30 years on Halloween in 2012. The Columbus Dr. bridge was officially opened to traffic on October 31, 1982.

The christening of the Columbus Drive / William Peter Fahey Bridge was marked by a Sunday brunch for dignitaries in the Hyatt Regency hosted by Mayor Jane Byrne. A ribbon cutting ceremony at the bridge followed. The family of William Fahey, a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty in February of 1982, was in the first car to cross the bridge. The plaque honoring Officer Fahey can be found on the NE corner of the bridge.

Columbus Dr. was a key piece in the master plan to provide another north / south traffic link across the river between Michigan Ave. and Lake Shore Dr. This link improved traffic flow and accessibility between the growing Illinois Center and Streeterville areas. In addition, it became the detour that minimized the traffic impacts of the Lake Shore Dr. realignment project that followed later in the decade.

This modern bridge used the basic concepts of the Chicago-type trunnion bascule bridge with up- to-date features of the era. This is the first of the downtown bascules to use box girders instead of trusses to support the leaves. Technological advances in steel and its fabrication allowed bridge designers to keep all structural support below the bridge deck - an aesthetic goal for downtown bridges dating back to the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

The Columbus Dr. bridge was in service for about five months when three of the four gears used to the raise the bridge were found to be either cracked or broken. It took approximately six months to repair the bridge.

Repairs could have been made with the bridge in the down position allowing traffic use the new bridge. However, maritime law in effect on the Chicago River gives preference to the water-borne traffic which meant repairs were made with the bridge leaves raised, much to the chagrin of the landlubbers. The bridge was re-opened – and lowered for traffic in October 1983.

The bridge was designated a movable span prize bridge by the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1984.

Many thanks to Albert Baker, Asst. Chief Engineer of the Columbus Dr. bridge for his input on this summary.

Columbus Dr. bridge on the rise

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