M-44, M-91 / Mid. Mich. RR and Flat River

M-44, M-91 / Mid. Mich. RR and Flat River

County: Ionia

City/Township: Belding

Location: M-44, M-91 / Mid. Mich. RR and Flat River

Year Built: 1950

About this Bridge:
This multiple-span concrete/steel bridge crosses over the Flat River and the Railroad tracks for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company. Located in the village of Belding, the structure carries Highway M-44. It was dedicated in 1950 as the Veterans Memorial Bridge. Extending a total of 414 feet.

The structure is made up of four steel girder spans that cantilever over the piers to form alternating anchor and suspended spans. These are supported by cast steel bearing shoes that rest on concrete abutments and spill-through piers. The abutments have stepped concrete wingwalls; the spill-through piers feature battered columns with modest recessed panels and straight cross-beams. The variable-depth, deck girders (two per span) are made up of steel plate webs, with riveted angle flanges and web stiffeners. They are braced laterally by crossed steel angles. The girders support and asphalt-covered, concrete deck with pedestrian walkways on both sides. Flanking the walkways are MSHD standard, decorative steel guardrails with concrete bulkheads and posts. In physically good condition, the Veterans Memorial Bridge has functioned in place since its completion with only maintenance-related repairs.

By the late 1940s the existing Belding Road bridge over the Flat River in Belding had become a serious bottleneck to traffic. In 1949 engineers for the Michigan State Highway Department designed a replacement structure. MSHD designated the bridge a Federal Aid Secondary project, solicited competitive bids for its construction and awarded the contract to L.A. Davidson. Davidson completed the Flat River Bridge the next year for $258,929.47. This cost was divided among the Bureau of Public Roads, the Michigan State highway Department and the C&O Railroad. Built soon after the end of World War II, it was dedicated as the Veterans Memorial Bridge “to the war veterans of Belding and vicinity” on October 28, 1950. Since then it has carried vehicular traffic in essentially unaltered condition.

The bridge’s steel girder configuration is one that MSHD used extensively for bridges in the 1930s and 1940s. Although the highway department had delineated a standard steel stringer design as early as the 1905-1906 biennium, the relatively shallow I-beams that were being fabricated by the steel mills limited their span – first to30 feet, later to 45 feet. When the mills began producing deeper beams in the late 1920s, MSHD could extend the spans of its steel stringer bridges. “When this type of structure was first put in use,” MSHD state in 1930, “rolled sections of sufficient strength were not available for spans greater than about forty-five feet. It was necessary, therefore, to use relatively shallow fabricated deck girders for spans greater that forty-five feet.

Rather recently, however, steel mills have improved their methods and are able to furnish rolled section which on proper spacing, are suitable for spans up to sixty feet.” For its long-span bridges in high-traffic locations, MSHD often substituted plate girders for rolled beams, and for its longest girder structures, it cantilevered the channel for spans from arms of the adjacent anchor spans. The Veterans Memorial Bridge in Ionia County is noteworthy among these cantilevered girder bridges for its relatively long span and its well-preserved condition. A locally prominent landmark, it is both historically and technologically significant.