Columbus Drive Bridge

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Columbus Drive Bridge is the youngest bridge among other Chicago bridges.

It was built in 1983 and it is the only bridge which doesn’t have predecessors. The other bridges started to come into existence starting 1834. They have been rebuilt several times with different materials and designs. Columbus Drive Bridge is a toddler compared to them.

There is an interesting reason why Columbus Drive Bridge doesn’t have much of a history. Back in time Columbus Drive simply didn’t exist and Chicago geography looked very different.

Before the 1840s the lake shoreline ran along Michigan Avenue. There was a sandbar where Columbus Drive is now. And the Chicago River had a sharp 90-degrees turn to the south along the sandbar and used to enter Lake Michigan at Madison Avenue.
The erosion of the city shoreline from flooding and winter lake storms was a big problem for Chicago. The city had plans to construct a protective breakwater but as usual did not have money to do that.

Finally in 1851, the Illinois Central Railroad offered to construct the breakwater but in exchange they wanted the precious shoreline for the tracks to get access into the heart of the city.

As a compromise the city offered the railroad a 300-foot strip 400 feet east of the west side of Michigan Avenue. The railroad began immediately to construct the breakwater and offshore trestle for the railroad tracks.

That created a basin east of Michigan Avenue that soon became a polluted backwater. After the famous Chicago Fire of 1871 it was filled with rubble and it became an abandoned wasteland.

Starting 1901 the harbor and the Chicago Drainage Canal were dredged and sediments were dumped into the lake to expand the shorelane even further. That created the place we know now as Grant Park.

Up to the 1930s Columbus Drive was a dusty boulevard along railroad tracks and it used to dead-end at Monroe Street. Only in 1980 it was extended to Wacker Drive. With construction of Columbus Drive Bridge in 1983 it jumped over the Chicago River. Ironically only to be renamed into Fairbank Court after two blocks.

Modern human history is a blink of an eye compared to natural timeline. In a matter of 200 years the marshy lakeshore swampland has been transformed into the Chicago skyline. It’s magic if you think about it.