Jim Ross: Bridge designers take cues from basket handles
For three decades and going on four, Huntington’s East End bridge over the Ohio River was the one that other communities wanted. It was the first of several bridges on the river of the cable stay design. Others followed at Steubenville, Ohio; Maysville, Ky.; Ironton; Louisville; and Owensboro, Ky.
But the cable stay bridge has competition now for the most aesthetically appealing bridge design for bridges of its size. The newcomer is a type of bridge known as a basket handle, and one is going up in West Virginia.
The basket handle bridge is a variation of the network arch bridge, the type that opened about a decade ago over the river at Blennerhassett Island. The network arch is itself a variation of the tied arch bridge, such as the one at Moundsville. Both bridges feature two arches supporting the bridge deck. At Moundsville, the cables supporting the deck are vertical. At Blennerhassett Island, the support cables are at an angle and intersect.
The two arches on the bridges at Blennerhassett and Moundsville are parallel. The arches on the new bridge at Wellsburg will lean toward each other and be closest but not touch directly at the top of the arch.
This design has caught on elsewhere. One opened recently over the Arkansas River at Little Rock, and one is under construction over the Mississippi River at Moline, Iowa. The commonwealth of Kentucky recently opened two in the Land Between the Lakes area near Paducah.
Keith Todd, a public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the basket handle design was chosen by the public after a series of public meetings.
“The folks wanted something unusual,” he said.
Jason Stith, bridge technical manager for the Michael Baker International office in Louisville, said people tend to prefer the basket handle design over the cable stay for aesthetic reasons.
“It has the sweeping lines, especially as you drive up to it. To me, there’s some elegance to it,” Stith said.
Life-cycle costs for the basket handle and the cable stay are approximately equal, Stith said. The new bridge at Wellsburg hits the sweet spot where cost considerations for the two designs are about equal, he said.
One difference between the two is the center span. The Blennerhassett Island bridge’s arch span - the distance from pier to pier - is 868 feet. That’s about the upper limit for a network or tied arch bridge, Stith said.
For comparison, the channel span of the East End bridge is 885 feet.
There is another advantage to a basket handle bridge. The steel structure of the arch can be built off site while the piers are being put in the river. When the piers are finished, the steel arches can be brought to the site by barge and lifted into place. That’s what will happen at Moline, and that’s what will happen at Wellsburg.
The Wellsburg bridge was a design-build project in which both phases are handled by Flatiron Corp. of Broomfield, Colo. Flatiron says it can deliver the new bridge in March 2021, a year ahead of schedule.
Dan Blevins, the Wellsburg project manager for Flatiron, said crews are preparing to put the caissons in the river so they can begin work on the piers.
Other than a second Interstate 64 bridge over the Kanawha River near the St. Albans exit, we’re not expecting any new big bridges in this area in the near future. But you never know. Perhaps we’ll be surprised with another bridge someday and enjoy the visual experience of crossing the river on a basket handle.
Jim Ross is editorial page editor of The Herald-Dispatch. He has written about the Ohio River for more than 40 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.