Standing on the Margaret Hunt Hill, Before Getting a Look at What Runs Below

Speaking of the Trinity River ...

Perhaps I didn't end up visiting the under-construction Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on the best day for our ongoing Unfair Park series, "Sweaty Dispatches From a Sweltering City." While I was out on the pavement girded with Italian steel early Thursday afternoon, there were all these plump, cottony wisps in the sky -- whatever those are -- running interference between the sun, a Swiss-cheese ozone layer and my motel tan.

Nevertheless, I linked up with Duane Milligan, the TxDOT engineer overseeing the construction of Santiago Calatrava's addition to the Dallas skyline, at a quadruple-wide trailer sitting beneath the I-30 overpass on Riverfront. A strapping grad of both UT and U of Houston, we discussed shooting feral hogs with .357s in South Texas and, incidentally, the stray bullet that hit the trailer earlier that week (police ruled it criminal mischief), before setting out for the bridge.

We parked the white TxDOT Chevy along the unfinished concrete dividers. Down the median, men were shoveling debris and cleaning up. Along the outer edge, they were prepping the bridge for the signature white guardrails. The railing should complement nicely the harp-string cable stays running the length of the bridge, which keep whole sections from falling into the Trinity below, now that the shoring towers supporting the platform have been pulled out of the ground and hauled off.

By 2:30 in the afternoon, though, the day was already drawing to a close. The bridge builders were loading their trucks and trailers. Most of them had been here since 4:30 a.m., taking advantage of the cooler morning hours to pour concrete that would otherwise set too quickly in the heat.

At this point in the day, which should be intolerably hot, it was overcast instead. And for a moment, both Milligan and I entertained febrile hopes for rain. (The sun ultimately killed the clouds we saw.) It looked like my "Sweaty Dispatch" would become a "Mildly Flushed Report From A Not Intolerably Hot City."

Instead, we decided to explore the bridge's innards and geek on what is really a pretty fascinating piece of architecture. We clambered down a 20-foot ladder into a conduit that runs the length of the bridge. Anchored in the ceiling at intervals were the bridge's iconic cable stays, which are actually just bundles of steel cables encased in PVC sheaths. Along the walls were portholes that at some point will house lights illuminating the bridge's underside. And extending along the conduit, an inconceivably heavy steel spine braced the bridge platform.

After climbing back out, we drove to the edge of the bridge, where a massive embankment will have to be laid before Calatrava's bridge can connect with Singleton. There's work to be done, indeed, but Milligan says he doesn't see any reason why they won't hit their March 2012 deadline. In fact, he expects the bridge to be largely complete by the end of the year.

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