It's one of the most visible landmarks in the QC, but there's much more to the Government Bridge than meets the eye. That's the subject of this edition of "Rock Island Arsenal: Inside the Gates".
There have been a series of bridges crossing from Arsenal Island to Davenport. The current bridge opened in 1896. And it's still one of the busiest thoroughfares in the QC.
Made of solid steel, Government Bridge is an icon, more burly than beautiful. It closely resembles its forefather, the 1872 bridge built in the same place. "So we have the rail on the top like it is today and we have wagon place on the bottom, so that was the first time that bridge opened in 1872 that you could actually take your wagon across the river without having to use the ferry," says George Eaton, Historian for Army Sustainment Command.
When the 1872 bridge became obsolete they replaced it with the one we use today. Eaton tells us, "The pierings, actually the support structure that goes down to the bedrock and came up to support the bridge, across those 5 spans you see there, those are the ones that were placed in 1872."
The new bridge opened in 1896. "So if you don't like the fact that this bridge is 110, 115 years old, you're not gonna like the fact that really the pierings are 140 years old," Eaton says.
Built to last, through hot summers, and bitter winters, it's still rock solid, but it's not free. Eaton tells us, "The Garrison spends about 700,000 dollars a year on maintenance on that bridge and it will last forever. They do all sorts of maintenance on it to make sure it continues to run."
When you drive across the Bridge the buzzing sound you hear drives some folks crazy, but Eaton says it's actually a good thing. "I think actually that open grating that people don't like actually makes it easier because the water and the snow just sort of fall through."
It's not only durable, but distinctive. "What's really interesting about this bridge I think is it's only 1 of 2 in the world that turns 360 degrees both ways so that span can follow a barge through both directions," says Eaton.
The goal is to get the swing span opened and closed as quickly as possible, minimizing delays to road traffic. Eaton says, "The span itself is 1250 tons. That's just the swing span itself. So it's very heavy which it makes it even more impressive that a 56 horsepower engine turns it."
It's not light, but that swing span floats like a butterfly. "In fact when you jack it up to clear it from the pins and stops, the wind can actually turn it by itself and then the bridge master just uses a brake to slow it down," Eaton says.
Glitzy and glamorous, no. High quality and historic, no question.
The current Government Bridge is about 300 yards down river from the first railroad bridge to ever cross the Mississippi, which opened in 1856.
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