Cleveland Viaduct now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark

Cleveland’s Main Avenue Viaduct is now a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The viaduct was constructed in 1938 at the cost of $7.2 million, and helped accommodate growing traffic into Downtown Cleveland.

Prior to the viaduct’s construction, residents on the West Side had a limited number of ways to get Downtown, said Case Western Reserve University Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering Dario Gasparini. They could take the Detroit Superior Bridge, or go downhill to cross a swing bridge and railroad tracks.

The methods created “bottlenecks,” Gasparini said. The viaduct eased those concerns and provided another route to access Downtown Cleveland.

“It was a remarkable achievement, both in terms of the efficient way it was designed and constructed and what it has meant for the city of Cleveland for 82 years,” Gasparini said.

The viaduct was designated as a landmark on Oct. 6, on the anniversary of the day it was first dedicated. The full structure extends from just west of City Hall to West 32nd Street, Gasparini said, for a total distance of about 8,000 feet.

The project took 17 months and engineers utilized technical features that reduced the amount of materials needed and increased efficiency.

“The entire project was an amazingly efficient operation,” Gasparini said. “It was built during the Great Depression. So the primary object of the engineers was to design and build a very cost-effective structure.”

The Main Avenue Viaduct has faced criticisms, though. The project contributed to the isolation of the Lakeview Terrace housing project, Gasparini said. Lakeview Terrace was completed in 1937, prior to the introduction of the viaduct, and was surrounded by lots, industrial buildings, a water treatment plant and a four-lane highway, among other factors.

“The only way that residents of Lakeview Terrace really interacted with their community was through one North-South passage at West 28th Street,” Gasparini said. “I think that, socially, the Main Avenue western approaches did exacerbate the isolation of Lakeview Terrace residents from the south. But it was isolated before construction of the viaduct.”

The landmark designation does not include any restrictions or qualifications on how to maintain the property moving forward, but it is a significant honor for the structure, Gasparini said, as only 230 other projects have earned the title in the country. That includes iconic structures such as the Brooklyn Bridge.

“It’s being in a list, a very select list of projects, that have impacted both our infrastructure systems, as well as the professional society of engineers,” Gasparini said.

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the only other structure to have received this designation in the Cleveland area, was designated in 1979.

The designation encourages awareness and preservation, but it also highlights the efforts of the Ohio Department of Transportation, city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County Department of Public Works, and Cleveland Metroparks, he said, who have been responsible for maintaining the structure.

“We cannot afford to just not be good stewards of what we own,” Gasparini said. “We cannot just be stewards of our land and our resources. We also have to be stewards of our built environment.”

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