The Market Street Bridge construction began in 1914. It is a bascular-type draw span bridge and is owned by the State of Tennessee. Because of its current condition, the bridge is currently undergoing a major structural renovation which will cost $13,060,428.85.
In 1985, the Market Street Bridge celebrated 68 years in an article in the Chattanooga News-Free Press; some photos of the opening ceremonies in 1917 are included in this article.
Once construction is complete, travelers will enjoy sidewalks measuring three feet wider on either side of the thoroughfare making walking safe and easy. The bridge design will also provide architectural attributes and lighting in keeping with the historical significance of the Market Street Bridge. The renovated bridge will look much like the original – only stronger, safer, and ready to be put into use for another 90 years!
Although most people know it as the Market Street Bridge, its official name is the Chief John Ross Bridge in honor of the Cherokee chief who established Ross’s Landing on the banks of the Tennessee River, which later became Chattanooga in 1838.
Market Street Bridge is Tennessee’s only drawbridge, as well as being one of only a handful in the United States that accommodates foot and automobile traffic. Unlike the Walnut Street Bridge, Market Street Bridge was built for automobiles and streetcars. Spanning the Tennessee River between downtown Chattanooga and the Northshore District, the bridge carries North Market Street, formerly U.S. Hwy 127, and State Route 8. In the mid-1950s it was the most heavily traveled bridge in Tennessee.
In the mid-1950s it was the most heavily traveled bridge in Tennessee. The most famous bascule bridge in the world is Tower Bridge in London which spans the Thames River. Market Street Bridge is a double-leaf bascule span bridge, a drawbridge with counterweights that balance the spans – or leaves – throughout the entire upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic. It is a rolling-lift bascule bridge, meaning the spans roll or rock to rise like a rocking chair on a track. The two, huge concrete weights on each end of the bascule allow the bridge to open in the middle. Bascule bridges are the most common type of movable bridge because they open quickly and require relatively little energy to operate. Two small 50-horsepower electric motors get the works started, and the counter-weights pull the spans up the rest of the way. It takes only two minutes to raise the two sides to a 45-degree angle. “Bascule” is a French term meaning seesaw.
For most of Ross’s Landing’s first 75 years only ferry service was available. By 1911 load limits and costly repairs to the Walnut Street Bridge led officials to begin planning for a new bridge. Market Street was the commercial center downtown, so it made sense that the new bridge would be destined for that street. Another consideration before building was that military gunboats might have to travel the river, so the bridge had to have 100 feet of clearance and a 300-foot channel span.
The original Market Street Bridge construction began in 1914 and opened 1917. At the time, it was said to be the largest concrete bridge in the South and the largest double-leaf bascule highway span in the world. To mark the dedication, a Hudson Supersix was driven across it, making it the first automobile on the completed bridge. The method of construction was unique at the time. Imagine two 200-foot-tall steel towers erected on each bank of the river with cable running between them. Concrete chutes ran along the cable to deliver the concrete. The floor system was unique in its construction because inside of each arch is a system of smaller columns that supports the loads carried across the roadway.
Several floods of the Tennessee River caused delays. Normally, falseworks prevented driftwood from accumulating, but the floods caused driftwood to accumulate too fast; the falseworks were dislodged by the pressure of the river. Part of the bridge was washed away during construction – an enormous part – after the entire structure of framework and forms were set and ready to be poured. A newspaper story dated 12/20/15 reported a 28-foot stage flood and a portion of the bridge – span 3 – was swept 10 miles downriver. “The 10 men hanging at the water’s edge pushing and pulling would no sooner got one mass (of trees and driftwood) into the current, than another would pile in on top of them. The timber around them was sagging and cracking like the reports of pistols.”
In 1950 the bridge opened accidentally for six hours. Two cars that were on the bridge at the time were trapped between the south concrete counterweight and the river. Jacks had to be used to lift the counterweight. No one was injured.
The bridge was welded shut for a time during the late 60s. It was mysteriously raised by someone in 1977. It was hit by a runaway barge in 1978. The blue hue wasn’t always its color. As recently as 1997, the bridge was painted green. Now all the bridges in the downtown Chattanooga area are painted the same special color of blue, which is referred to by the TDOT Structures Division as “Chattanooga Blue.”
The renovation began Sept. 18, 2005, and reopening is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2007, making it 90 years old. (The Walnut Street Bridge is 116 years old; Olgiati Bridge is 48; Veteran’s Bridge is 23.)
The bridge renovation includes maintaining architectural elements associated with the historical significance of the Market Street Bridge, including light fixtures, handrails, arch fascia detail, obelisks (shafts of stone with pyramid on top) and an operator’s house. The number of traffic lanes and lane widths on the renovated bridge are the same, and travelers will enjoy sidewalks measuring three feet wider on either side of the thoroughfare making walking safe and easy. The bridge’s structural renovation cost approximately $13,060,500. The original bridge cost $1 million to build – double the projected cost. The riverbed is limestone bedrock, and is uneven with numerous seams and cracks filled with soft yellow clay sediment filling in the gaps. The renovation includes replacement or repair of the deteriorating surface, arch spans, entire north approach, roadway, handrails, obelisks, interior columns, steel bascule span structure, motors to operate the bascule span and mechanical operating equipment. The bridge is owned by the State of Tennessee. Restoring the bridge is Mountain States Contractors, Durham, NC.
Consulting firms include:
Parsons Transportation Group – responsible for redesigning the bridge and ensuring it’s structurally sound, as well as project manager and inspector.
KSWARE – provided a concrete technician.
Volkert – provided an inspector and office technician
By the Numbers
Main span length – 310 ft.
Total length – 2,000 ft.
Deck width – (curb to curb) 36 ft.
Vertical clearance – (bascule truss to roadway) 16.4 ft.