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May 18, 2008

Rust Belt Rust

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

They call the region surrounding the Great Lakes the Rust Belt because most cities, large and small, have examples of abandoned factories that had flourished during the period 1850-1950, roughly. The term also refers to an aspect of what some consider a "de-industrialization" of America.

Factories aside, on my recent trip through the Midwest I noticed examples of Rust Belt rust that were disturbing. So I took photos. First are pictures of Chicago's elevated train line that runs around the part of downtown called "The Loop" (referring to the area circumscribed by or bordering the elevated line, or "L" ... not "el" is in New York). For more on the "L" see here. This is followed by photos of the suspension bridge between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky that opened shortly after the end of the Civil War. Its designer was John Roebling, who cut his teeth on it before attempting the famous Brooklyn Bridge in New York. You can read more here.

Gallery: The Chicago "L"




These are photos of the Quincy station near West Jackson Blvd. and the Sears Tower.

Here is the interior of the station house and its ticket office. Basically early 1900s with modern items added as needed.

What the station looks like from street-level.

Hmm. It looks a bit rusty up there.

More rust. This is at the station over East Adams. The undersides of the elevated lines showed rust in many places, though, to be fair, I did see a repainting effort near where this photo was taken.

Gallery: Cincinnati's Roebling Bridge

The bridge from the Kentucky side with Cincinnati in the background.

This shows the suspension cable system.

And there is plenty of rust on some of those cables and tie rods. Because it isn't a toll bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, it doesn't earn its own maintenance money.

As I said, this is disturbing. And that's because, in the long run, too much rusting can result in loss of structural integrity. Sure, the "L" and the bridge are inspected and certified, but I suppose the same could be said for structures that actually did collapse. Since I'm not an engineer, I'd be really happy if a reader who knows about the integrity of rusty structures would offer reassurance.



posted by Donald at May 18, 2008


Nice snapz in any case. They really take you back to an earlier era, when "industrial" really meant "industrial." I'm eager to hear from an engineer too. How much rust can be tolerated? Is what we're seeing here just superficial?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 19, 2008 10:23 PM

Beautiful pictures. I am a professional engineer and the rust you documented is aesthetically disturbing but structurally meaningless. I am not worried about the rust, but the general state of abandon and lack of maintenance. Pity.

Posted by: j on May 20, 2008 12:58 AM

On the Firth of Forth, the great Victorian railway bridge soldiers on, but the 1960s road bridge needs replacing.

Posted by: dearieme on May 20, 2008 7:07 AM

There's a nice picture of the two Forth bridges here.

Posted by: dearieme on May 20, 2008 7:13 AM

Infrastructure, like immigration, is one of those "hidden issues" that no one wants to talk about because it doesn't fit neatly into either party's ideological parameters, but is not going to go away. Americans between 1865 and 1965 were probably the greatest builders on Earth, but nothing lasts forever, and we are soon going to have to decide what we want to repair or replace, and how. Sounds boring initially, but believe me, with all of the interest groups involved, it won't be...

Posted by: tschafer on May 20, 2008 11:12 AM

I have such a visceral love for Chicago, that I don't 'see' the rust - I just see things that I, well, love. Still, yikes. The US is starting to look a bit run-down in parts. Boston was equally shocking in this regard, if not more so. I hated the T. Why I should love the L and hate the T, I don't know. It's not logical.

*It's like the hospitals I've worked at. There is always money for big glass buildings, but rarely money for general upkeep and whatnot.

Posted by: MD on May 20, 2008 2:19 PM

I'm still waiting for a candidate who'll come along and vow

1) No new intiatives of any kind, because we're already too damn overextended

2) Eight years spent patching-up and repairing what we already have. And maybe withdrawing from about 50% of what we're attempting.

I mean, really: Don't we all have to go thru such periods periodically? We start all kinds of new projects ... Then discover the time has come to examine and clean out closets and drawers, repair the roof and porch, consolidate savings and investments, cut some losses, prune our activities and energies down, and to get out lives back under some kind of loose control. Simplify, repair, and maintain. Then have a margarita and enjoy life.

But no, the damn politicians keep yakking about exciting new initiatives, and the damn public keeps falling for it. Or do we?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 20, 2008 3:01 PM

Mike: you are, of course, correct. But it's easier to sell people on buying a fancy new car than fixing the old one.

Posted by: SFG on May 20, 2008 7:45 PM

Donald, just got this piece of news st the meeting with 29-head Client hydra (29 government agencies who'll occupy the courthouse I'm involved in designing):
-in New York it is prohibited to have carpet in the courtrooms, despite it being the most appropriate material (cheap, best acoustically, historically accurate, etc). The reason: DCAS (court janitors) find maintenance of carpets too tiresome.

Posted by: Tatyana on May 20, 2008 11:02 PM

The "L" in Chicago was as rusty 100 years ago during the heyday of industrial America as it is today. You picked a station on the L (Quincy Street)that was closed for many years and then restored to the early 1900's look in order to get National Landmark status for the L. As it was closed for so many years, it was not modernized as most of the other stations were and was the easiest to restore. Why don't you mention the fact that droves of people are moving back into the city, and new housing is being built in much of the city, instead of playing into the tired old stereotypes and supposed-to-bes about the so-called rust belt? Los Angeles has many areas that are extremely blighted and people aremoving out in droves. Also, I recentle visited Cincinatti and similiar things are happening there as they are in Chicago.

Posted by: Robert on May 21, 2008 1:47 PM

There is a section of the El on Northern Boulevard in Queens that looked as rusty as your pictures, several years ago. The repainting project for less than a half mile of track took about two years, primarily because the old paint contained lead, requiring extraordinary protection and remediation services. Each column and beam had to be tented and the air filtered while paint removal took place. The peeling and rusted paint is not structurally unsafe, and as long as the parts per million of lead in the air around the station stays low, its an aesthetic problem only. There are enough structurally unsafe bridges and overpasses that need addressing before the involved agencies turn their attention and budgets to eyesores.

Posted by: Julie Brook on May 21, 2008 3:06 PM

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