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At 810 feet in length, Rochester's South Hill Bridge was the longest concrete span in the state of Michigan when it opened to traffic in November 1927. The bridge began at the foot of Main Street in downtown Rochester and connected it with the crest of South Hill, crossing First Street, Mill Street, the Clinton River valley, and the Grand Trunk Railway tracks. Prior to the construction of the highway bridge, it was difficult for automobiles to enter Rochester from the south because of the necessity of traversing the steep 120-foot grade. The new bridge opened downtown Rochester to vehicular traffic from the southern part of Oakland County, and was a boon to the community's economy. A dedication ceremony attended by state, county, and local officials and more than 10,000 spectators opened the bridge to traffic on November 9, 1927.

Rochester South Hill Bridge under construction, 1927

Building, Metal

Rochester South Hill Bridge partial collapse, November 1, 1983

Bridge, Concrete bridge, Overpass, Girder bridge

The Rochester South Hill Bridge was a joint project of the Michigan state highway department and the Oakland County Road Commission. Meant to improve automobile access to downtown Rochester from the south, the bridge was part of a larger Rochester Road/Stephenson Highway expansion project designed to give northern Oakland County an efficient route to downtown Detroit. The bridge traversed the Clinton River, the Grand Trunk Railway tracks, First Street, and Mill Street, and eliminated the need for autos to back up the steep grade to the foot of Main Street.

Construction began in October 1925 and was finished two years later. The Wisconsin Bridge & Iron Company was the general contractor. Cost of the project was approximately $250,000.

Upon its completion in early November 1927, the Detroit Free Press described the new bridge, in part, as follows:

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Built of steel and concrete, with ornamental railings, a wide sidewalk and a broad roadway illuminated by a boulevard lighting system, the structure has been in the process of construction since October 1925. It was designed by C. A. Melick, state bridge engineer for the Michigan highway commission, and its construction has been supervised by C. A. Miller, C. B. Laird and D. G. Cameron of the state road engineer's office. E. Grandquist of the Wisconsin Bridge & Iron company, superintended the erection of the steel.

The bridge is 810 feet long, its roadway is 24 feed wide and more than 2,700 cubic yards of cement were used in the piers, approaches and superstructure. More than 1,000 tons of reinforcing steel was fabricated into the bridge.

Construction involved the cutting through of a new road to divert traffic while the bridge work was under way. This necessitated removal of the crown of two hills on either side of the Clinton river, which the bridge spans.

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The bridge superstructure was designed to accommodate the addition of two more traffic lanes in the future, should growth in the community demand it. Accordingly, two lanes were added to the east side of the bridge in 1958.

On November 1, 1983, part of the southbound side of the bridge deck cracked and collapsed after a support strap failed. The bridge was closed completely for a week while emergency repairs were made, and then a total replacement of the bridge deck was undertaken in 1989-90. The refurbished bridge was opened to traffic in October 1990 with a "Bridge Bash" reminiscent of the original 1927 celebration.

"Rochester Gets Help in Fight for Viaduct," Detroit Free Press, June 14, 1925, p.7.

"Rochester Viaduct Stirs Road Society," Detroit Times, June 14, 1925, p.26.

"View of Death-Traps Near Rochester: Viaduct Proposed to Remove Danger," Detroit Free Press, June 21, 1925, p.13.

"Viaduct Plan is Approved," Detroit Free Press, November 22, 1925, p.4.

"Surveyors Work on Rochester Viaduct," Detroit Times, May 9, 1926, part 7, p.6.

Michigan Roads and Construction, vol. 24 (1927), pp.33-34.

Oakland County Road Commission. Oakland Highways, 1927, p.23.

"The Bridge Opens Wed. Nov. 9 With a Big Celebration—All Welcome," Rochester Era, October 21, 1927, p.1.

"State's Biggest Bridge Completed," Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1927, p.5.

"Rochester Proud of New Bridge," Detroit Times, November 10, 1927, p.3.

"Big Rochester Bridge Opened," Detroit Free Press, November 10, 1927, p.13.

Peal, Wayne, and Richard Lech. "Coping Now the Key as Bridge Cracks," Rochester Eccentric, November 3, 1983, p.1.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Oakland County Road Commission. Oakland Highways, 1927.

Deborah Larsen (with permission of Clarence Whitbey family)