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

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 3 of this Q&A style article 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.


February 2022

To summarize the last issues article , we introduced the he 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. This project has a construction estimate of $12.4 million.

The Waco Suspension bridge was originally built and completed in 1869 and underwent a rehabilitation in 1914. The bridge is a single span measuring 475 feet over the Brazos River.

We contacted the City of Waco and Patrick Sparks PE of Sparks Engineering to ask questions on this current project. We thought we would ask a couple of more questions to find out more about this great project. This is the second article of a three-part series of the Rehabilitation of the Waco Suspension Bridge.

What is your favorite part of the project?

It is very technical, which I love. But working with such a great team: The City of Waco Parks Department (our client), and our highly qualified contractor Gibson & Associates and their specialty subcontractors is another part of the project that is equally enjoyable.

Any improvements to the original design of the bridge?

We will bring the bridge up to current pedestrian live load (90psf) and H-15 truck load. We are improving the anchorages, using the same size cables but of stronger material. Also, we are very focused on durability of the bridge. Considering this we:

  • We are detailing plans extensively to prevent water from entering the lower chord of the trusses.
  • We are using FRP form-deck, and a three-inch-thick deck slab with stainless steel rebar for maximum life span.
  • The outer walkways will be decked with tropical hardwood for durability and to save weight.
  • We will also improve the railings to meet modern codes.

Will you give us an update when complete?

Absolutely!

The Waco Suspension Bridge is a ASCE Civil Engineering Landmark and on the National registry of Historic Places. Tom Balk , LA describes the bridge as “an iconic landmark on all levels with deep meaning for us locally, and it is truly an honor to be entrusted with its care.” We will follow up with a Part 3 article when the project is complete.


Join us for Part 3 of this series in a future issue if Texas Civil Engineer (TCE). If you have a question for Mr. Sparks regarding this project, please send them to Melinda Luna PE at [email protected].

View Part 1 of this series here.

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)