I-96 BL / GTW, CRRR, & Red Cedar River

I-96 BL / GTW, CRRR, & Red Cedar River

County: Ingham

City/Township: Lansing

Location: I-96 BL / GTW, CRRR, & Red Cedar River

Year Built: 1952

About this Bridge:
This fifteen-span structure consists of two identical side-by-side superstructures, each carrying two lanes of traffic. A narrow gap separates the structures, with a low concrete median on the deck. The spans have six steel I-beam stringers per side. Substructure member are shared by both sides.

This long bridge crosses an industrial area, three sets of railroad tracks, a city street, and the Red Cedar River. I-96 BL, formerly US-127, is known locally as South Cedar Street. Standard State Highway Department railings with metal panels between metal posts edge the roadway, terminating at concrete endposts. Railings also top the long, sloping wing walls. Raised concrete sidewalks run on both sides of the roadway. A bridge plate is affixed at the southeast corner.

Congestion on trunkline routes in Michigan’s urban areas had become a concern for the state highway department during the 1930s, when traffic studies funded by federal work-relief programs highlighted the problems caused by urban traffic snarls. Projects to address this issue were delayed by World War II, but the Federal Highway Act of 1944 provided substantial financial assistance to begin plans for upgrading key routes.

In Lansing, where traffic problems were a personal frustration to state legislators and highway officials, there was a major post-war initiative to improve four of the eight trunkline routes serving the capital city. To the south, these efforts focused first on US-27/M-78 (Main Street, now I-496), where improvements by 1950 included a nine-span steel-girder bridge over railroad tracks and the Grand River, and a new grade-separation structure carrying the road over US-127. The highway department then focused on the Red Cedar River crossing of US-127, just to the south of the upgraded intersection.

This crossing had long played an important role in the community. Lansing’s first bridge, built of logs, spanned the river here by 1842. The bridge was constructed to provide access to the north side of the river, where Lansing was developing, and served the stagecoach route to Jackson. The first bridge was carried away by a flood and replaced with a frame bridge in 1852. A covered bridge was built in 1866, was rebuilt in 1890 without the roof, and remained in use until 1909, when a concrete-arch structure was erected.

Plans to build a bridge to replace the early twentieth-century structure were announced by State Highway Commissioner Charles M. Ziegler on 1 January 1951. Rather than simply replacing the earlier structure, the department undertook a far more substantial project by eliminating the at-grade crossing of railroad tracks south of the river that had long been the source of delays for vehicular traffic. Plans for the “huge bridge separation,” according to the Lansing State Journal, included fourteen 60-foot spans and one 85-foot section, measuring nearly 1,000 feet altogether. Combined with the embankments that elevated the roadway to the bridge, which provided at least 22 feet of clearance for the trains, the total project extended about 2,300 feet.

The structure’s two 25-foot roadways were separated by a two-foot concrete curb, with six-foot sidewalks edging the structure. In addition to moving utility lines, the project also required relocation of a Grand Trunk Railroad control tower and construction of a small three-span bridge over the Red Cedar River for access to businesses on the eastern end of South Street, which would be isolated by the grade separation’s substructue. While the Grand Trunk and New York Central railroads agreed to pay a small percentage of the estimated $1.6-million cost, the federal government funded nearly fifty percent of the project, with the state highway department and the city of Lansing splitting the remainder.
Construction bids were due on 18 January 1951. The scale and complexity of this project, which included a 12-degree turn in the structure’s alignment over the railroad tracks, represented a substantial design and construction challenge. The contract was awarded to two Lansing contractors, Fry & Kain and Walter Toebe & Company. Toebe, which had been in business since at least 1928, erected many bridges throughout the state. It does not appear that the project’s 1 ½ year construction schedule was affected by the fire that seriously damaged the state highway department’s bridge design office on 8 February. The contractors had installed coffer dams and begun pouring the foundations by June. The dedication ceremony for the structure, which ultimately cost about $2 million, was held on 18 August 1952.

Michigan Roads and Construction reported on the local significance of the improvement: “With the opening of this new roadway, Lansing can look forward to relief from the tremendous congestion which for years had delayed motorists in the south end of the city.” The department’s 1951-1952 biennial report highlighted “the reconstruction of South Cedar Street (US-127) as a divided highway and the construction of a combined bridge and grade separation” as “an outstanding feature of the program” to improve trunkline circulation to and through Lansing.