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Detroit-Superior Bridge

Detroit-Superior Bridge

The Detroit-Superior Bridge is a 3,112-foot through arch bridge that carries US Routes 6 and 20 over the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. Connecting Detroit Avenue on the west side of the city to Superior Avenue downtown, the high-level crossing was built by the King Bridge Company from 1914 to 1917.


A proposal for a high-level crossing of the Cuyahoga River was first brought up in the early 1900s as a means to alleviate congestion on the ailing Superior Viaduct that was in need of significant repairs. City Engineer William J. Carter favored the construction of a bridge from Superior to Franklin Avenues, with the older Viaduct remaining in place to serve as a connection between Detroit and St. Clair Avenues. 25 But Col J. McD. Townsend, a government engineer for the district, believed that a high-level crossing wasn’t necessary if an existing ban on high masts on lake vessels was enforced. 31 The masts were mostly used for derrick purposes and did not need to be as tall.

A $2 million bond issue for a high-level bridge along Superior Avenue was held in 1905 and passed with a clear majority, but it was found that the bond ordinance was not properly advertised and the vote was declared invalid. 32 The location of the crossing was then questioned, and an alternate proposal for a crossing between Lorain and Huron Avenues proved not too popular at the ballot after being defeated twice.

In February 1908, Mayor Johnson proposed that a high-level bridge for streetcars be built, while the existing Superior Viaduct be rebuilt into a high-level crossing for automobiles. 29 With no progress being made on financing the bridge, former county commissioner William Elrick stated that if certain formalities were conducted through the county, the burden of constructing the Superior Avenue high-level span would be taken off the shoulders of the city. 26 Such a method would remove the need for the city to hold a municipal bond election, and while a city issue vote required a two-thirds majority, a county bond issue needed just half. 32

Public hearings continued on the new bridge, and an alignment just north of the Superior Viaduct was selected on July 13, 1910. 32 35 The decision was immediately opposed on the grounds that it would have provided two nearly duplicate bridges on the same alignment. Three suits were filed but all were dismissed. Plans for the $1.3 million high-level crossing were formalized by the end of March, 19 which called for a main steel arch span over the river and open-spandrel steel arches encased in concrete for the approaches. But a bond issue to finance the new crossing failed to pass. 35

In June, the High-Level Bridge Commission recommended that the Superior Viaduct be sold to the Cleveland Railway Company and rebuilt into a high-level bridge for exclusive use by streetcars. 16 A new high-level bridge for automobiles and pedestrians would be built between Detroit and Superior Avenues. To pay for the bridge, the county proposed a tax on all taxable property in the county, 35 which passed with a clear majority in November. 32

In January 1911, the county chose the location of the new Detroit-Superior Bridge after a conference with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Industry, Builders Exchange, Federation of Labor, and the city. 11 Every major business interest was in favor of a Detroit-Superior route sans the Chamber of Commerce, who preferred an alternate alignment, 14 stating that it would parallel existing facilities and be an unnecessary financial burden. 15 The Chamber desired a bridge midway between the existing Central Viaduct and the proposed Detroit-Superior Bridge. The proposed alignment of the Detroit-Superior Bridge was signed off by the Army Corps of Engineers on February 29, and the first contract for test borings was awarded on March 23. 32


Construction of the bridge was overseen under the direction of W.A. Stinchcomb, A.W. Zesiger, and K.D. Cowen. 35 On May 4, 1912, a contract was awarded to the O’Rourke Engineering & Construction Company for the erection of two main piers. Construction of the arches began by the King Bridge Company in the fall.

By January 2013, excavation for the east river had been completed. 35 In September, the Chamber of Commerce expressed the desire wanted to place the streetcar tracks on the upper level and automobiles and pedestrians on the lower level and to eliminate one pier that would prevent a planned improvement of the Cuyahoga River to remove a bend. 8 It also requested that the bridge be raised even higher. 9 The county generally rejected the changes as they had been submitted too late into the process, but was open to the idea of removing a pier to improve river navigation. By November, work had started on two caisson piers on the west side of the river and seven concrete pile piers on the east side. 6

Piers nos. 1 and 2 were built by sinking caissons in open, dry excavation 60- to 65-feet below ground. 2 35 Piers nos. 5, 6, and 7 were sunk lower to provide for a possible diversion of the navigable channel. A double row of steel sheeting provided a cofferdam down 50 feet below river level. Piers nos. 5 through 11 all rested on pre-cast reinforced concrete piles ranging from 25 to 50 feet, driven with a 5-ton Vulcan hammer. Each were tested to carry a load of 60 tons for seven days, with a ¼-inch maximum allowed settlement. 2 35 Footings for pier nos. 3 and 4, supporting the river span, were built in open cofferdams built of interlocking steel sheet piling. The piers, 116×80 feet at base, rested on stiff blue clay 45 feet below river level.

By July 1914, the caisson construction for piers nos. 1 and 2 were underway, and excavation for pier no. 3 had started. 35 Piers nos. 4 and 9 were complete, and concrete piles had been driven for pier no. 5. Test piles for pier no. 8 were down and concrete piles were about to be driven. The arches were completed by December in nearly half of the time required, 6 having required 2,123,300 cubic yards of concrete and 9,385,000 pounds of steel. 2

The Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company of Cleveland constructed secondary piers no. 1 and no. 2, and nos. 5 through 11, and included setting the grillage material for the cast-steel bolsters that would carry the steel arch span. 35

By the spring of 1915, the west approach was nearly complete. 35 Construction then proceeded on erecting 90-foot steel towers to aid in the construction of the center arch main span. Eyebar backstays held the half-arches in place until they were joined in the center. Work then started on the center span over the river on July 29 which was completed on October 8.

In the winter of 1915, one rib of a 145-foot concrete arch span cracked and was discovered on May 1, 1916. 34 An examination of the crack uncovered that water had intruded and froze during the pouring process. An excess of water in the concrete may have been the cause, and the material, improperly worked, could not shed the water. The span, which had been poured on May 27, 1915, was connected to pier no. 5 that was being monitored for any horizontal movement. Only the arch ribs had been built between piers no. 5 and 6, and the arch ribs and the first floor between piers no. 6 and 7 increased the load further on pier no. 5. It was discovered that pier no. 5 was shifting westward due to an unbalanced load on the pier which threatened the structural stability of the bridge. Additionally, pier no. 6 was also shifting.

The King Bridge Company decided to lower the steel arch into place and released the backstays that extended from piers no. 4 and 5. 34 The lower chords of those stays consisted of lattice girders, and it was decided to use those girders as struts between piers nos. 4 and 5 to prevent any further movement.


Plans to construct inclines for streetcars to approach grade-level from the bridge were abandoned in February 1916 after the city planning commission agreed on plans to construct a subway, several hundred feet in length from each approach, to reduce interference with automobile traffic. 35 On the east side, the subway continued for 185 feet to a point on Superior Avenue at West 9th Street. On the west side, one subway continued west under Detroit Avenue to West 28th Street for 725 feet, and another south beneath West 25th Street to Church Avenue for 560 feet.

Four pedestrian entrances were located at Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street, one located in the Forst City Building on the southwest corner, and one on the south side of Superior Avenue at the bridge’s east approach. 35 The stations above ground were built as small, wood-framed buildings with hipped roofs. Below ground, they featured white glazed tile walls with recessed lighting, a waiting area, a boarding platform, and public toilets. Tunnels under the tracks at both stations gave access to east-, west- and south-bound trains.

But extensions of the subways along Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street, and along Superior Avenue and around Public Square, at the cost of $1.75 million to $2 million, were put on hold because of intense opposition from property owners in Ohio City. 5

By December 1917, the lower deck was nearly prepared for regular streetcar use.32 Work cars were running on the bridge conducting final preparations for regular use by Christmas. The railway installation was completed by the Cleveland Railway Company. 35


The new Detroit-Superior Bridge was completed at the cost of $5.4 million 2 and opened to automobile and pedestrian traffic on Thanksgiving Day 1917. 1 35 No ceremony was held as it was during wartime. The first streetcar crossed on Christmas eve carrying 50 prominent officials, including the Cleveland mayor.

Designed by William F. Striebinger, 13 with plans prepared under the direction of county engineer Frank Lander and county engineer Pelgate, the new 3,150-foot Detroit-Superior Bridge featured a 665-foot cantilever truss center span, with a width that varied from 81½-feet at the center to 95 feet at the approaches. 35 Its approaches included three concrete arches west of the river and nine east of the river, the longest with a clear span of 174 feet, the shortest at 58 feet. 35 Each concrete arch had four arch ribs to support the beam and slab streetcar deck on heavy spandrel columns, spaced 10 feet apart on center. The spandrel columns continued above the lower deck to support the roadway, also of beam and slab construction. Arch no. 12, between piers no. 11 and no. 12, required a different design due to its travel over the Big Four Railroad. 35 Instead of centering, which would interfere with the railroad, a high rise curve using three hinged steel arches for both the erection and reinforcement was used.

The upper level was designed for automobiles with wide sidewalks flanking both sides, while the lower level contained four streetcar tracks with room for two additional tracks. 2 Two of the tracks were designed for higher speed travel. 5 Entry portals for the streetcars was at West 6th Street and Superior Avenue, on West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue. 1

The completion of the Detroit-Superior Bridge marked the first fixed high-level crossing and the third high-level span across the Cuyahoga River in the city. It was the largest steel and concrete reinforced bridge in the world. 2


A proposal from 1927 called for the removal of unused streetcar tracks on the lower level for additional automobile lanes. 35 The project would cost $1.1 million but a lack of financing caused the project to never come to fruition. By 1930, the Detroit-Superior Bridge carried over 70,000 vehicles per day and was one of the busiest river crossings in the nation. 1 Traffic was slightly relieved with the openings of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge and the Main Avenue Bridge within the decade.

In 1939, the construction of Bulkley Boulevard necessitated the reconfiguration of the west approach, and the wooden subway house on the northeast corner of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street was replaced with a new subway house built out of sandstone. 35

By 1946, the subway stations and the entrances at street level had become deteriorated and vandalized which mirrored the condition of the streetcar system in the city. 35  Streetcar operations on the Detroit Avenue line had ceased on August 25, 1951, and the last car on the West 25th Street line had run on August 15, 1953. A proposal by Mayor Anthony J. Celebreeze in December called for the lower deck to be converted for automobile use only, but it was dismissed by county engineer Albert S. Porter as “engineered murder.”

The last streetcar to operate over the Detroit-Superior Bridge was a “free ride” celebration on January 24, 1954. 35 A temporary roadway was implemented atop the streetcar tracks during a trial run in February.

In May 1955, the city council passed an emergency ordinance that granted the city the right to fill in the streetcar wells, which were filled with gravel and asphalted over in November. 1 The spandrel arches closest to the approaches were sealed with cinder blocks, and the stairwells to the subways were closed and covered up, and the station houses were removed.

In 1965, the county hired engineers to inspect and conduct a study of the bridge as it had deteriorated to the point that it needed significant rehabilitation. 35 Between 1967 and May 1969, 2 the Detroit-Superior Bridge was renovated at the cost of $6 million that also included the construction of two new cantilevered traffic lanes on the outside of the main span arch. 35 The width of the bridge was increased from 45 feet to 72 feet, and the sidewalk widths were narrowed from 15 feet to five feet. Additionally, the ornamental pylons were removed and new railings and lighting fixtures were installed.

The Detroit-Superior Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 18, 1974. On Veterans Day 1989, the Detroit-Superior Bridge was renamed the Veterans Memorial Bridge. 1

In September 2002, the county approved the conversion of the two cantilevered automobile lanes for use by cyclists and pedestrians. 3 The $2.7 million project was completed in 2004. 4



  • State: Ohio
  • Route: US Route 6, US Route 20
  • Type: Open Spandrel Arch, Steel Arch
  • Status: Active - Automobile
  • Total Length: 2,656 feet
  • Main Span Length: 591 feet
  • Spans:
  • Deck Width: 72 feet


  1. “Veterans Memorial Bridge.” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. N.p.: Case Western Reserve University, 27 Mar. 1998. Web. 29 July 2012. Article.
  2. McMichael, Stanley L. The Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge. Bridges of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. N.p.: n.p., 1918. 7-10. Print.
  3. “Bridging the gap for Cleveland’s bicyclists and pedestrians.” EcoCity Cleveland, n.d. Article.
  4. “Detroit Superior Bridge.” LAND Studio, n.d. Article.
  5. “Forget Subways, Hurry Up Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 24 Jan. 1914: 1-16. Print.
  6. “Sees New Bridge Completed in 1915.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 1 Dec. 1914: 8. Print.
  7. “Gain Half Year on Span.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 3 May 1914: 22. Print.
  8. “Halt New Bridge? Never! Says Board.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 16 Sept. 1913: 14. Print.
  9. “Won’t Alter Plan For Higher Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 30 Sept. 1913: 2. Print.
  10. “Split on Bridge Piers.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 30 Mar. 1913: 16. Print.
  11. “Superior-Detroit Site Chosen for New Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 4 Jan. 1911: 4. Print. (map)
  12. “Interests Ratify High Bridge Site.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 5 Feb. 1911: 1-2. Print.
  13. “Wants Classic Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 3 Sept. 1911: 2. Print.
  14. “Declares Against High Bridge Delay.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 25 Nov. 1911: 4. Print.
  15. “New Bridge Plan May End Conflict.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 14 July 1910: 1, 16. Print.
  16. “Ask City to Sell Superior Viaduct.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 1 June 1910: 1-11. Print.
  17. “Bridge to Follow Superior Route.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 22 June 1910: 5. Print.
  18. “County is Ready With Bridge Plan.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 20 Jan. 1910: 10. Print.
  19. “Superior Bridge Plans are Ready.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 31 Mar. 1909: 4. Print.
  20. “Authorizes Vote for New Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 24 Feb. 1909: 8. Print.
  21. “Cassidy an Easy Victor; Bonds All Meet Defeat.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 21 Apr. 1909: 1. Print.
  22. “Working on Grade for Proposed High Level Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 10 Feb. 1909: 10. Print.
  23. “High Level Bridge Against Brought Up.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 30 Jan. 1909: 12. Print.
  24. “May Drop Bond Issue.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 25 Feb. 1909: 14. Print.
  25. “Mayor Originates Move for Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland], 19 Aug. 1909: 1, 8. Print.
  26. “Says County Can Build Big Bridge.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 7 Aug. 1908: 1, 7. Print.
  27. “To Study Bridge Cost.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 23 Aug. 1908: 12. Print.
  28. “Start Bridge Plans.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 5 Feb. 1908: 10. Print.
  29. “Favors a Viaduct for Street Cars.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 12 Feb. 1908: 3. Print.
  30. “Wants Change in New Bridge Plans.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 12 Nov. 1908: 12. Print.
  31. “Would Condemn All High Masts.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 18 Nov. 1907: 8. Print.
  32. Rose, W.B. “All in the Day’s Work.” Plain Dealer [Cleveland] 22 Dec. 1917: 8. Print.
  33. Waddell, John Alexander Low. “Arch Bridges.” Bridge Engineering. By John Alexander Low Waddell. Vol.1. New York: Publishers Printing, 1916. 631-32. Print.
  34. Zesiger, A. W. “Crack in New Concrete Arch Explained by Freezing of Pocketed Water.” Engineering News-Record 77.9 (1917): 356. Print.
  35. Miller, Carol Poh. Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge. N.p.: Historic American Engineering Record, 1978. Print.

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