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Belle Isle Bridge

Douglas MacArthur Bridge

   
                  


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Bridge Documented: July 27, 2003 and October 10, 2009
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Key Facts
Bridge Name Facility Carried / Feature Intersected Location Structure Type Construction Date and Builder/Engineer
Belle Isle Bridge
Douglas MacArthur Bridge
East Grand Boulevard Over Detroit River Detroit: Wayne County, Michigan Concrete Cantilever Open Spandrel Deck Arch, Fixed 1923 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown and Engineer/Design: Lewis Merritt Gram
Technical Facts
Rehabilitation Date Main Span Length Structure Length Roadway Width Main Spans NBI Number
1998 134.8 Feet (41.1 Meters) 2356 Feet (718 Meters) 61 Feet (18.6 Meters) 19 824180800512B01

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth and Rick McOmber

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View Historical Articles About This Bridge

View A Historical Article About Lewis Merritt Gram

View The Original Official Bridge Proposal Produced By City of Detroit

This is an extremely long multi-span concrete arch bridge that gives people access to Belle Isle, and the structure is the longest arch bridge in the state of Michigan.

This bridge is extremely significant not only because of its length, but because it is a very early example of a cantilevered concrete arch. A cantilevered concrete arch does not function like a traditional arch. Traditional arch bridges require the arch to be a complete and connected arch to function. This arch bridge does not function in that way. Each half of each arch spans is a cantilever arm that is structurally independent from the other half of the arch in that span. Standing under a span of this bridge, a clear gap at the center of the span is visible. Indeed, on the outermost part of the arch, a decorative "keystone" was placed for aesthetic reasons to cover up this gap.

Wayne County Road Commission was among Michigan's counties, an innovative and creative road commission and they apparently made significant use of concrete cantilever arch structures. Other examples of concrete cantilever bridges in the county remain. These other examples are different from the Belle Isle Bridge, and feature a third central "suspended" span between the cantilever arms.

There is an interesting guardrail design on this bridge, but which does not appear to be original. The interesting guardrails are for the pedestrians, traffic is kept at bay via modern New Jersey barriers, which MDOT mentions were added in 1985. Obviously, this bridge goes over the side of the Detroit River that freighters do not use, which accounts for why a low-clearance bridge was built here.

A 1918 copy of a book entitled "Concrete engineers' handbook: data for the design and construction of plain and reinforced concrete structures" by George A. Hool et al. lists several bridges using this design, including an additional unidentified example in Wayne County, and the Hopple Street Viaduct in Cincinnati (now demolished). As such, the Belle Isle Bride may not be the second example of its kind, but is still an early example.

Architect, city planner, and co-author of the famous Plan of Chicago, Edward Bennett, produced for Detroit an early proposal for a concrete arch bridge to Belle Isle in 1915. Including the early proposal by Bennett, the bridge apparently went through substantial discussion and revision in terms of the design of the bridge. Historical articles and reports refer to some drawings and plans that are different from what the final product actually ended up being. The final product itself was designed by a University of Michigan professor, Lewis Merritt Gram. Gram also was involved with the initial design of the Michigan Stadium.

Douglas McArthur Bridge

Above: Photo showing previous bridge at location. Source: Library of Congress

Information and Findings From Michigan Historic Bridge Inventory

Narrative Description

This monumental structure consists of nineteen spans, with a total length of 2,356 feet. It features cantilevered arches, allegedly only the second example of a bridge of this type in the United States when it opened. The city of Detroit completed a major rehabilitation of this bridge in 1984-1985, at a cost of $11.4 million. The project included repairs to the arches, an entirely new deck and road surface, and the installation of "New Jersey barriers" between the roadway and sidewalk.

Text credit to Charles Hyde "Historic Highway Bridges of Michigan"

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Photos and Videos: Belle Isle Bridge

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A collection of overview and detail photos. For the best visual immersion and full detail, or for use as a desktop background, this gallery presents the photos for this bridge in the original digital camera resolution.
View Photo Gallery Bridge Photo-Documentation
Mobile Optimized Gallery
A collection of overview and detail photos. View the photos for this bridge in a reduced size which is useful for mobile/smartphone users, modem (dial-up) users, or those who do not wish to wait for the longer download times of the full-size photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer (great for mobile users) by clicking the link below.
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View Photo Gallery 2003 Bridge Photo-Documentation
An older, smaller collection of overview and detail photos. This photo gallery contains a combination of Original / Full Sized photos and Mobile/Smartphone Optimized (Reduced Size) photos. Alternatively, view this photo gallery using a popup slideshow viewer by clicking the link below.
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