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Spanning History: Main Avenue Bridge Recognized

On Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 82 years from the day when it was opened, the Main Avenue Bridge, also called the Main Avenue Viaduct, will receive a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Designation from the Cleveland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to WEWS TV-5,  fewer than 230 projects in the United States have received this distinction.

Built in 1939 with funds allocated from the Public Works Administration, the Main Avenue Bridge was one of many bridges and structures built in Cleveland during the Great Depression as a way to spur economic growth. The span over the Cuyahoga River in the Flats originally featured a float bridge, but was replaced with a 200-foot hand-operated swing bridge in 1869. In 1938, plans to build a new bridge to alleviate the increased traffic driving into the city was introduced by joining the east portion of the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway (named for the local veterans of World War II) to the west side span that extended to Edgewater Park. The eastern portion was originally built in 1936 to access the Great Lakes Exposition, which extended from E. 9th Street to E. 55th. It was the largest project of the Works Project Administration in the country.

When the bridge was completed, it held the record for the longest elevated structure in Ohio (with a length of 8000 feet) until 2007. The initial construction of the bridge, from 1938 to 1939, had workers use over 24,000 tons of steel and 55,000 cubic yards of concrete to build the cantilever truss crossing.

The structure is being given historic landmark status due to its use of continuous, haunched structural forms which offered greater structural efficiency and improved the aesthetics (the haunches are the vertical support structures under the roadway). It is also a significant example of a deck cantilever structure, which means that a structural member is positioned below the joists to support the weight of the frame. The lakefront ramp includes a plate girder span that holds the record at 271 feet and the overpasses at West 28th Street contain some of the first welded rigid frames. The construction represented a significant engineering achievement of the time.

In 1986, the bridge was renamed the Harold H. Burton Memorial Bridge in honor of the man who served as mayor during its construction and in 2007, the signature blue paint was added to keep the steel portions from deteriorating.

See an album of historic Cleveland bridges here. More details on the dedication ceremony can be found here.

– Neda S.

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