Wells Street Bridge

Through Truss Bascule Bridge over Chicago River
Chicago Loop, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name Wells Street Bridge
Built By City of Chicago
Contractor Ketler-Elliot Company of Chicago, Illinois
Currently Owned By City of Chicago
Railroad Feature Carried CTA Brown Line
Railroad Spans Length 460 Feet Total, 231 Foot Lift Span
Roadway Spans Length 330 Feet Total, 231 Foot Lift Span
Width 2 Tracks, 3 Traffic Lanes
Height Above Ground 16 Feet (Estimated)
Type Warren Through Truss and Warren Pony Truss
Date Built 1922
Date Rehabilitated 2013
Traffic Count 200 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
In 1895, the Northwestern Elevated Railroad (The Northwestern "L") began charting an electrified elevated line to connect Evanston to Chicago.

As with the other three elevated railroad companies in Chicago, the goal was to create a strong transportation system which connected the outlying neighborhoods together, reducing the need for horse drawn wagons (and later automobiles).
The construction of these elevated viaducts has much been accredited to the rapid growth of Chicago near the turn of the 20th century.
The new elevated line left the Union Loop at the intersection of Wells Street and Lake Street in downtown Chicago. The Union Loop was a 35 square block loop around central Chicago.
The Northwestern Elevated continued north from the Union Loop, across the Chicago River on a bridge shared with Wells Street.
Immediately after the line turned and followed Franklin Street, before turning parallel to Orleans Street. The line then turned due west, parallel to North Avenue, and back north along Sheffield Avenue.

The line opened to Wilson Station, just a day after the deadline. The city and railroad began a standoff over this, but ultimately the railroad convinced the city to extend the deadline.

The line would inevitably completed to Evanston and Wilmette along the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific tracks.

By 1907, the railroad began a branch from N. Clark and W. Roscoe Streets into Ravenswood, and ended at Lawrence Avenue and Kimball Avenue.

In 1913, the other three companies (The South Side "L", The Lake Street "L" and The Metropolitan "L") came together to form the Chicago Elevated Railways Collateral Trust, forming complete crosstown service of Chicago for the first time.

By 1924, all companies completely merged to form the Chicago Rapid Transit Company (CRA).
Following WWII, the City of Chicago and Illinois Government favored consolidating the bus, streetcar and elevated/subway operators into one company. The Chicago Transit Authority was born in 1947.

The system continued to expand through the 1950s and 1960s, with construction taking place primarily along new Interstate Highways, including The Eisenhower (I-290) and the Dan Ryan (I-90/I-94)
A new color scheme was adopted to rename the lines in 1993. The colors include: Red, Green, Blue, Pink, Brown, Purple, Yellow and Orange.

This line was renamed the Brown Line between the Union Loop (later renamed "Loop") and Clark and Roscoe. From that point to Wilmette, it was known as Red.

The Ravenswood branch would also become known as part of the Brown Line.

The Wells Street Bridge is one of the most iconic bridges in Chicago, making appearances in The Fugitive (1993), Batman Begins (2005), and the children's Disney show "Shake It Up."

The bridge is one of the most unique structures in Chicago, and one of only two that is a double deck structure.
The lower deck of the structure carries Wells Street, while the upper deck carries CTA "L" Trains.

The fixed trunnion bascule bridge is one of the finest in Chicago, joining the ranks of many other bridges, such as Lake Street

The bridge is a double leaf style trunnion bascule bridge, with each leaf containing 8 riveted panels.
The bottom chords are curved on either end to allow the bridge to raise and lower, meaning the clear span of the river is only 184 feet, as the sides are much too low for navigation.
The substructures are made of stone and concrete, which include an ornate cut stone abutment, operators tower and stairs to the river walk on the south side.
In addition, the railroad deck contains an 11 panel, riveted Warren Pony Truss approach on the south side. One oddity about the approach span is the fact it does not contain any verticals between panels. This pony truss connects directly to an 1890s elevated viaduct, part of the CTA.

Being located in downtown Chicago, with a large system of waterways; the bridge will raise and lower many times per day. Because of how massive the structure is, it is really unique to see how the bridge moves. The trunnion feature forces the bridge to pivot as it is being raised.

The previous bridges at this location also have a lot of history. The first wooden floating bridge was built in 1840, and was destroyed by ice and replaced in 1849, again being replaced in 1856 and 1862. After the 1862 structure burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, an iron swing bridge would be constructed. Another would be built in 1888, which was converted to a double deck bridge in 1896.
The current bridge was replaced without interrupting traffic, similar to the Lake Street Bridge. Chicago Engineer of Bridges Thomas Pihlfeldt marvelled at this fact, and considered it to be his greatest achievement.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) opted to rehabilitate this historic bridge, instead of replace. Part of the rehabilitation included:
Replacing outer panels of each leaf, roadway stringers, bracing and the bottom chord and replace non historic railing with historic replica.
In addition, rehabilitating the bridge house, mechanical systems, substructures, and the architectural elements of the bridge.

The 5 outermost panels on each leaf would be floated into place, and put into place. These new panels replicated every detail of the original ones.

Work was completed very rapidly, with minimal closures to traffic. Work would be completed in November 2013.

The photo below is the builders plate. Below is a set of detail photos.
Above is an overview. Unfortunately, the weather did not turn out how I would have liked, and thus this bridge is on my priority list for next time.

Chicago River Railroad Bridges

Upstream State Street Subway
Downstream Lake Street Bridge

Detail Photos

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