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What is Old is New Again: The Rehabilitation of the Waco Suspension Bridge

What is Old is New Again: The Rehabilitation of the Waco Suspension Bridge

By Melinda Luna PE | ASCE Texas Section History & Heritage Committee Chair

This is a three-part series on the Rehabilitation of the Waco Suspension Bridge. Parts 2 and 3 will be added in during future issues as the project progresses. Bookmark this article and set a reminder to check back for the conclusion of this insightful series.

Part 1

May 2021

The team of Modjeski and Masters, Structural Technologies, Sparks Engineering Inc. (Engineer of Record) and Gibson & Associates (General Contractor) with the City of Waco have undertaken the project of rehabilitation of the Waco Suspension Bridge. Tom Balk LA, the Program Manager for Waco’s Park Planning and Assets, describes the venture as a “very exciting project for the City of Waco.” He goes on to say, “this remarkable bridge has been foundational in our city’s development and is a key piece of our history.”

The Waco Suspension Bridge was originally built, completed, and officially opened in 1870. Before the bridge, people crossing the Brazos River as part of the Chisholm Trail would use a ferry. A group in Waco saw the need to form a team and obtain a charter to build the bridge. The group, led by Thomas M. Griffith, an engineer who had worked for John A. Roebling’s Sons Company (built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City), hired Waco Bridge Company to complete the project. The bridge has already been rehabilitated once in 1914 after a flood but its cables have not been replaced since then.

The bridge spans the Brazos River at Bridge Street in Waco, McLennan County, Texas and is now a walking bridge, a favorite for prom photos and tourists.

The current group of engineers and contractors is working to restore the bridge and ensure the bridge is around for another generation of Texans. We contacted the City of Waco and Patrick Sparks PE of Sparks Engineering to gain deeper insight into this great project with an estimated construction costs of $12.4 million.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Sparks: One of the biggest challenges was putting in the temporary piers in the main river channel to support the stiffening trusses. This step will allow the bridge to be supported while the cables are de-tensioned and removed.

What is the progress of the project so far?

Sparks: The bridge is fully supported by temporary piles in the river, and the suspender rods are being removed. Shortly, the cable de-tensioning will begin. Modjeski team began working on the project in the Summer of 2020.

When can we expect the project to be completed considering the progress? 

Sparks: It looks like we are on track for Spring of 2022.

What is the plan to open the bridge? 

Sparks: It is too early to know what we are going to be dealing with as far as the current situation. Everyone is excited about the project and there will be something planned to celebrate the project. The City of Waco says that planning will start toward the end of this year (2021)

Join us for Part 2 of this series in a future issue of the Texas Civil Engineer (TCE). If you have a question on this project for Mr. Sparks, please send it to Melinda Luna PE at [email protected].

Photos Credit: Waco Suspension Bridge, Spanning Brazos River at Bridge Street, Waco, McLennan County, TX (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print)