Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Fred Hartman Bridge by Chiwe Tsoka

On my way to Baytown, for the first time, on the morning of a very beautiful day, the sun was shining bright and the air was crisp. I encountered what could be one of the most treasured landmarks of the town. I could only but imagine the significance of such a gigantic engineering structure. It was fascinating; four lanes on each side adorned with a sequencing of all sorts of vehicles from the most luxurious SUVs to the eighteen wheeler tanks and cargo trucks. It did not take me too long to figure out that this was a symbol of transportation and commerce in the town.  
Picture by Chiwe Tsoka
The Fred Hartman Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, with a total length of 2,475 inches, is currently the second largest cable-stayed bridge in terms of overall deck area. The bridge connects Baytown with Texas Route 225 in La Porte—a distance of about 2.5miles—and replaces the obsolete Baytown tunnel, which opened in 1953. It is particularly noteworthy for its “double-diamond” tower configuration which was designed to resist hurricane-force winds. The main span unit consists of a five-span structure, comprising three cable-stayed spans. The three-span cable-stayed portion is constructed with a composite steel superstructure. The typical section consists of two independent roadways, each approximately seventy eight inches wide, which carry four lanes of traffic with full shoulders.The bridge was named after Fred Hartman (1908-1991), the editor and publisher of the Baytown Sun from 1950 to 1974.
Frustrations from delays in completing the bridge finally ended in 1995 when former president George Bush, then governor of Texas cut the tape,commissioning the bridge. On September 30 1995, it was opened to the public. Today the bridge carries an average of 200,000 vehicles per day.

When I decided to write a paper on the bridge, I thought of talking to one of the experts in history at my school, Mr. Whitaker. He has been taking a route through the bridge to commute from home to work for the past seven years. He explained  how the bridge serves many people including himself, allowing them to get to work on time without having to worry about traffic jams, which were common when the old tunnel was the only path across the water. He also related the significance of the bridge by referring to the history of Baytown. He said, “It is just a marvel of engineering that has gone a long way in facilitating the operations of the oil industry which is just the main commercial activity by which Baytown was founded."  He emphasized that without the bridge, Baytown would be city isolated.
Baytown lies within the Bayport Industrial district, which is now among the largest private industrial complexes in the country. Most Baytonians work and provide services to these companies. The bridge is therefore not just a symbol of transportation in Baytown carrying people to their destinations, but is also a facilitator of commerce and economy for the city. As the original citizens said, "Baytown is made of oil."
As i dug deeper into how the bridge came about i came across an article. The year 1994, as construction of the bridge stalls, a hairstylist who commuted from Baytown to the town of La Porte, Mrs. Grisby, complained as she explained the urgency of the bridge and how the delays bothered and continued to defer her desire for an efficient bridge. She suggested that the job be given to another construction company that could execute the job at the desired speed. Another lady, Mrs. Sheron, agreed and stated how residents of Baytown were isolated. As she looked to the bridge, she said the humungous bridge would be useful in many times, especially during evacuations when such disasters as fires or floods occured, as had happened before. She along with other 15,000 residents signed a petition to Governor George W. Bush to finish the bridge.
“The steel used in the bridge however came from SouthAfrica,” Mr Whitaker pointed out as we continued to talk. He said it had always been a wonder to him and many others because then South Africa had embraced apartheid policies, which caused complaints and protests from those opposed to the countries policy. This confirms the concerns of others as this is not the first time i hear the story. Surely Baytown has a steel mills that could have benefited from the project whilst ensuring perfect quality and timeliness of supply.  Even though my question is not fully answered, it does not chance the bridges stance. It remains an iconic bridge— a symbol of Baytown.

Picture by Chiwe Tsoka
   And so I smile as I pass through the bridge, and commuters comfortably race across the bridge in any of the four lanes from either direction. I imagine what a relief it is for Mrs. Grisbys as her wish was fulfilled and for others that had used the tunnel in desperation, as well. For those rushing to work and businesses, they comfortably and safely overtake one another to make it on time. As for me who takes the bridge to go to school, I know it had been the missing piece of the puzzle that was found to create a reliable route even for me.

Indeed, almost every town has a symbol. It could be a special place; a church, a river, a tree, or a park. For me and other Baytonians, it is the magnificent Fred Hartman Bridge.

Works Cited
Langford,Terri “Hartman Bridge 3 Years Late,$91 Million So Far,Another $58 Million Needed.” Associated Press. 12 Apr.1995. Web 10 Nov.2013
Whitaker,Chris. Personal Interview. 11 Nov.2013
Young,Buck.The Making of a City: Baytown,Texas,Since Consolidation 1948-1998. Baytown: Lee College.1997. Print

1 comment:

  1. Hey Hiwe! It's Jorge, I need your email. I've just found the pdf version of the math book we'll be using for diffeqs.