Are you a Pontist?
Posted 12/3/2013
A few years ago a fellow bridge enthusiast called me a pontist!  Sensing my dismay/confusion he explained -- people interested in bridges are called pontists.  I had never heard the term before although in my research I had discovered the use of pont (pronounced pohn; French for bridge; also Welsh for bridge, the "t" is not silent) as in the Pont Alexandre III [or Alexander III Bridge], one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris built for the World's Fair of 1900.  This arch steel span with its ornate decoration, clean lines, and lithe profile spanning the River Seine importantly did not obscure the beautiful views of the Champs-Élysées (north of the river and Paris' most famous street and most expensive strip of real estate) or the Invalides (on the south and so named for the building complex dedicated to French military history).  This bridge was held by civic and architectural interests as an example of the ideal bridge for city engineers designing the Chicago-type bascule bridges in the early 20th Century to emulate.

Anyhow looking further into the word pontist I discovered Merriam Webster's Dictionary has no entry for either pont or pontist.  I did find The Phrontistery - A Dictionary of Obscure Words defined pontist simply as "bridge builder," while the Urban Dictionary provides two definitions: "1. A historic bridge enthusiast who enjoys either lobbying for preservation and/or who enjoys visiting and photographing historic bridges. 2. Anyone who enjoys working with or visiting/photographing bridges of any kind."

Dissatisfied with these I kept digging and discovered the Online Surname Database explained the family or surname "Pont" (with variant spellings of Ponte and Punt) has possible topographical and locational orgins. The topographical meaning of "a dweller by a bridge" from the Anglo-Norman French word "pont" derived from the Latin word "pons" meaning "a bridge."  While the locational origin of the surname may have come from the river "Pont" in Northumberland in the UK (recorded in 1269 as "Ponte" and in 1479 as "Pont") meaning "residence by the river."  The site continued explaining surnames became necessary with personal taxation by governments, which in England began with the Poll Tax and over centuries surnames in every country developed and changed sometimes leading to astonishing variants spellings of the original surname. This was all rather interesting but still less than satisfying toward a definitive description of this moniker -- pontist.

Other internet searches found in Hungary the word pont means "period" and "exactly" and a source looking at the Latin origins gives an interpretation of pontist as a "bridge guy."  It seems the word is somewhat open to interpretation.  Languages change and at best pontist seems to mean having an interest, passion, or association with bridges.  And maybe that is enough, and the fun of it is -- this word "pontist" can hold our own individual meaning(s) relating to people who relate to bridges. 

Wells Street Bridge Rehabilitation
Updated: 09-04-2013

The City of Chicago is near completion of a complete rehabilitation of the double-deck Wells Street Bridge crossing the main channel of the Chicago River.  Originally opened in 1922, it replaced an old swing bridge that was built in 1888 and in 1896 modified to carry an upper deck accommodating trains of the Northwestern Elevated Railroad Company between the Loop and the city’s north side.

Today’s 90-year-old Wells Street Bridge is the eighth bridge at this location and was sorely in need of rehabilitation.  Road salt over the years had caused significant deterioration of the lower road deck and structural steel.  The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) with consulting engineers from AECOM and DB Sterling coordinated with the CTA to plan and schedule the necessary bridge work.  On November 5, 2012 the bridge was closed to automobile traffic and is scheduled to reopen at the end of November 2013. 

The project is designed around continued CTA use of this important commuter crossing that carries approximately 78,000 commuters each weekday.  The project will included two 9-day interruptions to CTA train service of the Brown Line crossing the river from March 1 – 10 and April 26 – May 5.  Each closure  allowed cutting out and removal of the large sections of the bridge superstructure over the river on each leaf of the bridge.  These were then replaced by identical trusses built on barges on the South Branch of the Chicago River near S. Ashland Avenue just north of the Alton and Chicago Railway Bridge next to the CTA's Orange Line. 

The south leaf underwent this procedure first as the old superstructure truss section over the river  was supported by framework and hydraulic jacks resting on a work barge.  On March 2 at about 6:30 pm the last steel member was cut away and the old 250 ton truss section was floated out of the way and docked along the river south of the bridge.  Over subsequent weeks the old truss section was entirely cut into pieces, and carted off for scrap.  Once the old section smaller remaining steel section were cut and removed and the joint connections were prepared to receive a new half-million pound truss section (an exact replica made from new steel), which is floated into place by barge.  The lower truss joints were slid together and leveled so the pattern of holes matched up exactly and hundreds of bolts and nuts were installed.  The remainder of the truss triangle was then assembled to connect the top of the truss.  Meanwhile the old cross members on the upper deck at the approaches were cut free and replaced with new steel members.  Once this was completed and new tracks were laid and CTA trains resumed operation after the brief 9-day interruption.  With half of the bridge raised during the shutdown additional crews removed and installed new seats on the opposite leaf.  Keeping the opposite leaf open during each shutdown served the dual purpose of allowing the bridge seat refurbishment and the free passage of ships or sailboats to maintain navigational right of way as required on the main channel of the Chicago River.  The process was then repeated on the north leaf of the bridge during the second 9-day shutdown.  

Maintaining ‘L’ service is not a new constraint for Chicago bridge projects as first building this double-leaf bascule bridge in 1921 also required an impressive level of coordination and engineering savvy.  Then as now this crossing was a key connection for daily commuters.  Today’s Wells Street Bridge was built in the upright (or open) position so the old double-deck swing bridge could remain as long as possible.  Throughout construction of the new bridge the lower portion the bridge deck was left open to allow regular train service.  Then at 7 p.m. on the first Friday in December, 1921 traffic was halted, the old bridge was swung open, the tracks were removed, the old bridge was cut down, and the new bridge was lowered for the first time.  The upper deck was finished, rail approaches, and tracks were installed, and ‘L’ trains first crossed the new bridge that Sunday allowing a normal Monday morning commute.  As was done over that one weekend in 1921, during the upcoming 9-day shutdowns crews will work around the clock to minimize the interruption in service.

The balance of the 2012-13 year-long closure involves complete refurbishment and painting of the approach superstructure, counterweights, foundation pit, and machinery.  Additionally, the two bridge houses will be rehabilitated, and new electrical controls and HVAC systems will be installed.  The historic architectural elements of the bridge, including the railings, bridge houses, and superstructure will be preserved to match the original design of the bridge.  The main contractor on the project is Walsh Construction and included consulting architects from Muller+Muller, Ltd.