UP Watertown Plank Road Bridge

Parker Through Truss over Canadian Pacific Railway
West Allis, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

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Name UP Watertown Plank Road Bridge
Built By Milwaukee, Sparta & Northwestern Railroad
Contractor (Main Span) Pennsylvania Steel Company of Steelton, Pennsylvania
Contractor (Approach Spans) American Bridge Company of New York
Contractor (Substructure) Cleary-White Construction Company of Chicago
Currently Owned By Union Pacific Railroad
Length 511 Feet, 182 Foot Main Span
Width 2 Tracks
Height Above Ground 45 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Parker Through Truss and Deck Girder
Substructure Type Concrete and Steel Tower
Date Built 1910
Traffic Count 30 Trains/Day (Estimated)
Current Status In Use
UP Bridge Number 91.12
Significance Moderate Significance
In 1910, the Milwaukee, Sparta & Northwestern Railroad would begin construction on a beltline around the west side of Milwaukee, to bypass the traffic in the core of Milwaukee.
At the time, the route to the Twin Cities was complicated for the Chicago & Northwestern, and involved going through Madison, Baraboo and La Crosse to Mankato.
During the same time, the Milwaukee, Sparta & Northwestern was working on a line which connected the northwest corner of Milwaukee to Wyeville, and ultimately Eau Claire, which provided a direct link.
The newly constructed beltway around West Allis provided a link to the new mainline from the current C&NW line around South Milwaukee.
When completed, the C&NW quickly took a controlling stake in the MS&NW, and absorbed the company.
The line was only 8 miles long, but one of the most significant in Wisconsin. The new construction included the massive Butler Yard on the far northwest side of Milwaukee.
North of the Butler Yard, the line would have an intersection with two other lines, built at the same time. One heading west, one heading east.
Dropping south through the Butler Yard, the line closely paralleled the Menomonee River and what is currently I-41 (Zoo Freeway).
Continuing, the line would cross the Milwaukee Road mainline between Saint Paul and Milwaukee, as well as Underwood Creek and a toll road towards Watertown, all on the same bridge.
Next, the line crossed what is now I-94, and crossed a secondary Milwaukee Road Line, which was the previous mainline.
The line eventually ended at a wye, where it met the line around the south side of Milwaukee, and the line towards Waukesha and Madison.

The line is known for being heavily engineered, including some of the technical marvels at the time, such as its trusses.

Today, with the acquisition of Chicago & Northwestern in 1995, the Union Pacific owns and operates the line as a fairly used mainline. While the bridge across the southern Milwaukee Road line was replaced in 2014, the line still retains much of its original integrity and components.

View an article regarding the construction of this route.

This massive bridge can be seen for blocks in each direction from Watertown Plank Road.
Built in 1910, the bridge features 5 deck girders on steel towers crossing Watertown Plank Road and Underwood Creek. The main span is a huge 7 panel riveted Parker Through truss with M-Frame portal bracings.
The substructures are all concrete, and the plates state Pennsylvania Steel Company as the constructor for the main span, and American Bridge Company the approach spans.
Watertown Plank Road started as a toll road in the 1830s between Watertown and Milwaukee, and later became US-16. US-16 once extended into Milwaukee, but quit following the current route upon the construction of I-94 in the 1960s.
US-16 was turned over to the state in 1986 as WI-16, which currently ends at I-94 near Pewaukee.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in fair to good condition.

The author has ranked the bridge as being moderately significant, due to the truss design.
The photo above is looking from Watertown Plank Road.


Source Type


Build Date Date Stamp
Contractor (Main Span) Pennsylvania Steel Company plaque
Contractor (Approach Span) Missing American Bridge Company plaque
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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