by James Phillips
Sandwiched between two of the oldest downtown Chicago-type bascule bridges (Washington Blvd. – 101 yrs. & Lake St. – 98 yrs.), you will find the youngest. The Randolph St. bridge will mark 30 years of service on December 21st.
Unlike most of the other downtown bridges, there was no commemoration of the opening. Buried on page 35 of the Chicago Tribune of Friday December 21, 1984 part of the announcement read: “The rebuilt Randolph Street bridge at Wacker Drive, will be opened without fanfare to evening rush-hour traffic Friday and is expected to be opened less often for river traffic.”
This modest beginning was a matter of timing. Mayor Harold Washington had been in office a short eight months and the “Council Wars” were underway. None of the city leaders were interested in a grand ceremony.
The bridge cost $18 million and took three years to complete. Bridge design was accomplished by the Chicago Public Works Department and Hazelet & Erdal Consulting Engineers. The construction contractor was Kenny Construction Company. It was a significant improvement over the 78 year old Scherzer rolling lift bridge it replaced. With an additional five feet of clearance over the river, the Tribune article estimated a tenfold reduction in required bridge lifts for river traffic.
Many observers see this bridge as less appealing from an architectural point of view than other downtown bridges. With its single basic bridgehouse and box-girder deck support, it reflects the nature of design aesthetics in the 1980's. It is one of the Loop's four modern (post 1950) single bridgehouse bridges and the second one completed in the 1980's.
As with many of the bridge locations downtown, this Chicago-type bascule bridge is a snapshot in time. The Randolph St. river crossing has been home to movable bridges for about 175 years. These bridges have included floating bridges, center pier swing bridges, and the 1903 rolling lift bridge replaced by the current bridge.
Next time you cross the Randolph St. bridge, take a moment to appreciate its 30 years of service and visualize Chicago's rich movable bridge history. Then look south to the Washington Blvd. bridge to contrast the newest and oldest Loop bridges just a block apart.
Jim Phillips is author of Two Miles, Eighteen Bridges and co-founder of chicagoloopbridges.com. He can be reached at 312-540-0696 or visit www.chicagoloopbridges.com.