Building All Kinds of Bridges-as we Weave to 2000

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Posted by Penny McManigal on January 18, 1999 at 22:46:18:

This story seems appropriate for our present "American Journey". 1/18/99

Building Bridges Of All Kinds
McManigal 9/10/96

This summer during the Democratic Convention, President Clinton proudly proclaimed, "Build the bridge to the 21st Century!" Everyone cheered. It sounds so, well, "Millenium".

It got me to thinking. Catchy phrases make for good political campaigns. But it takes a lot more than catchy phrases to actually build a bridge. I agree that it is an enormously empowering metaphor. I also agree that we should try to build that "bridge"! So what are the common denominators of building this "bridge", spanning from one site to another? What does it take to build a bridge across a river or to the Twenty First Century? What are the metaphors which describe this process? I thought I would spend a little time on my inquiry and talk to someone who really knew what he was talking about, when it comes to bridge building!

This mission was easily accomplished. I picked up the telephone and called my 88 year old father, a retired bridge engineer for the state of California (Head of all Bridge Construction for the State)! My father and I have talked about bridges for as long as I can remember. Although the depth of my earliest childlike observations and questions was not intellectually very demanding my Dad always accepted each question with respect.

My earliest memories are of going out to my Dad's various bridge sites when I was three or four years old. My Dad would show my Mother and me the framed wooden understructures and then explain the preparations for the concrete "pour" which demanded much preparation, expertise and follow through.

Surely there was no greater admirer of the feat of building a sturdy bridge than my Mother. For her this task was so incredibly honorable. It was about connecting our great country, the "internet"of the forties. Mother used to
tell me that I could be so proud of the work my father did in the world because it was to improve something important, rather than to use it up, or to tear it down.

I grew up making my many crayon drawings on the other side of my
Dad's used bridge design specifications. Sometimes I would ask him to "puleeeease build me a bridge that had a lot of "waves" in it. We would make funny pictures together, the way I wished a bridge could be. But, and this is the point, he would always explain that bridges are built for a very basic reason, to get people from one side of something , across some kind of chasm,
to the other side.

It is not enough for a bridge to have a glorious design. It has to be built because there is a legitimate and sound reason for it. There needs to be advanced planning, which includes not only good design for the bridge and solid construction by experienced builders, but also at an appropriate location and with enough money to pay for the job!

A site which will be good for a bridge is one that will be suitable for all of the particular conditions for which it is needed. A bridge exists to serve a need. The engineers of the site will begin by first surveying the location. The engineers will also know about the need for solid underpinnings for both the piers and the roadway.

The structure itself is designed to carry the load it is expected to carry for a long life of service. To do this the piers are constructed in such a way so as to hold the framework securely in place.

An important step in modern bridge construction is to prepare for a very good "pour". The "pour" should result in concrete which will "cure" to have the desired strength. There are many different techniques to consider in pouring the concrete. If it is done well it will gain strength as it dries evenly and slowly. Another reason it will be strong is that reinforced concrete was used which consists of pre- stressed cables (wires which are pulled to the required tension for the steel to bear the load). This
pre-stressed concrete permits a longer span to be built. It is the responsibility of the site engineer to watch over the entire process, noting whatever needs attention and attending to it!

Depending on its type, this new bridge will be finished off with a deck to control its traffic, railings, curbs and medians for overall protection. Only then, after all of these particulars have been completed, is the bridge worthy of carrying its passengers to the other side!

It seems clear to me that, like a good recipe, there are many ingredients and steps to be taken to create any bridge which we might wish to build to the Twenty First Century. Like the addages of old, nothing will last without a strong foundation. We can not hope to get across the expanse to "transformation" on our solid new bridge unless we are willing to go through all of the steps. Simply "saying it" is not enough, Democrat and/or Republican! But to DO all of the work and THEN to cross that metaphorical bridge to a healthier, happier, more peaceful world for ALL of our children's children's children is worth the effort.

Ah, THERE is the dream!

Penny McManigal,
daughter of Howard Raphael Hineman,
Bridge Builder for the State of California (1935-1972)

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