Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Moving a 5 Million-Pound Bridge

Most bridges aren’t built offsite and then moved to where they need to be. But that’s what happened in Detroit with an unusual infrastructure project that also called for saving an iconic music recording studio.

2207_Michigan 125a.jpg
Detroit's newest bridge is slowly moved into position.
(Photographs by David Kidd)
I-94 through downtown Detroit is usually filled with speeding cars and trucks. But traffic on the highway was recently reduced to just one vehicle, moving only a few feet every hour. With six lanes all to itself, a self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) was carrying the newly built Second Avenue Bridge into position across the closed interstate.

An SPMT is a multi-axle rolling platform used to move massive objects that are too large and heavy for trucks. The Motor City’s newest bridge is nearly the size of a football field and weighs 5 million pounds. To handle the load, several SPMTs were linked together, their movements remote controlled by an operator standing nearby. A temporary surface of steel plates was laid down to protect the road beneath. With every few feet of forward progress, the SPMT would come to a halt, while two front loaders picked up the plates that had just been passed over and moved them into position in the behemoth’s path.
2207_Michigan 138a.jpg
The bridge's incremental movement is controlled remotely.
A handful of locals watched the bridge’s progress from the upper deck of a parking garage next to the highway. Another small group looked on from the yard of a shuttered old house on the opposite bank.

Built in 1954, the old Second Avenue Bridge was removed two years ago. Its replacement was constructed in a parking area adjacent to the interstate. Building offsite saved time and kept disruption of traffic to a minimum, all while improving worker safety. The new bridge was designed and engineered to eliminate the need for a center support which would have interfered with the reconfigured roadway below. The work is part of a $3 billion modernization project that will replace seven miles of freeway and rebuild more than 70 bridges.
2207_Michigan 128a.jpg
Interested bystanders were able to observe from a safe distance.
In order to improve pedestrian safety and mitigate maintenance issues, plans also call for changes to the service roads that run above and alongside the highway. New retaining walls will replace the grass-covered slopes that are difficult to maintain. According to the Michigan DOT, the new bridge and the accompanying changes are intended to improve “community connectivity.” But a connection to Detroit’s cultural past was nearly lost in the process.

Saving a Piece of Music History

Long before Motown Records set up shop in the Motor City, United Sound Systems Recording Studios was making records a little more than a mile away, in a house on Second Avenue. Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Bootsy Collins, Smokey Robinson, Bob Seger and Keith Richards are among the many artists who recorded at United Sound. Motown’s first hit was produced here in 1959. In recent years, the studio changed hands, closed, reopened and closed again. The historic house on Second Avenue sat shuttered, unused and largely forgotten.
2207_Michigan 096a.jpg
The United Sound Systems building was nearly lost because of the highway project.
Originally intending to demolish the property as part of the highway project, the Michigan DOT was persuaded to buy the studio and an adjacent parking lot for $1.7 million. The brick building will be moved onto the lot next door, preserved and ultimately sold. Local advocates for the studio hope its future owner will perpetuate the building’s legacy as a cultural landmark. The short move will likely be accomplished with an SPMT, and best viewed from the new Second Avenue Bridge.
2207_Michigan 134a.jpg
A supporting wall awaits the arrival of the new bridge.
2207_Michigan 147a.jpg
I-94 was closed for one week while the new bridge was moved into place.
David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
From Our Partners