North Carolina Bridges on Federal Lands

Award-winning Graham County Bridge 9 constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority near the Fontana Dam in 1945 (TVA, The Fontana Project) Award-winning Graham County Bridge 9 constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority near the Fontana Dam in 1945 (TVA, The Fontana Project)

The federal government took a number of direct and indirect actions in the early and mid-20th century that led to the construction of bridges in North Carolina on municipal, state, and federal lands. The Federal-Aid Act of 1916 helped finance state construction of bridges. During the Great Depression, New Deal programs—particularly those of the Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration—provided funds for hiring thousands of workers throughout the country to build roads and bridges for state and municipal highway projects. The work of the Civilian Conservation Corps or CCC led to the construction of many thousands of bridges, most of which were simple, untreated, timber structures. The CCC also erected a small number of notable, rustic, stone-faced bridges on federal lands, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Through its construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the federal government directly designed and built many bridges in North Carolina and Virginia, while employing local men and others through the CCC.

Tennessee Valley Authority Fontana Dam under construction in Graham and Swain counties, early 1940s (TVA, The Fontana Project) Tennessee Valley Authority Fontana Dam under construction in Graham and Swain counties, early 1940s (TVA, The Fontana Project)

Another New Deal program led to the construction of bridges on federal lands in North Carolina. The Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA, established in 1933, built dams and public works along the Tennessee River system, which drains parts of western North Carolina. It provided much-needed relief for the economically depressed region of southern Appalachia, while meeting its goals of improving flood control, navigation, soil conservation, recreation and, most importantly, electric power generation via large storage dams and reservoirs. The TVA relocated roads and bridges flooded by its reservoirs, and built some tee beam and steel-girder-and-floorbeam bridge types with continuous-cantilever designs that were economical, but required advanced stress analysis. Among these continuous-cantilever designs in North Carolina is the structure that carries NC 28 over the Little Tennessee River near Fontana Dam (Graham County Bridge 9). Both the bridge and the Moderne-style dam were erected in 1945. Although economics were an important consideration in erecting the bridge—it incorporates beams salvaged from the dam’s construction trestles—aesthetics were not ignored. Due to its clearly expressed function and a "simplicity of details” that gave it a “striking appearance,” the bridge won the American Institute of Steel Construction's award for most beautiful bridge in its class in 1945.

[June 2013]