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No Big Deal, Just A Bridge Made Out Of Old Aircraft Carriers

This radical plan combines recycling and infrastructure, and could result in the most awesome bridge in the world.

No Big Deal, Just A Bridge Made Out Of Old Aircraft Carriers

For massive aircraft carriers like the USS Independence–a “supercarrier” nearly the length of three football fields–the usual fate after decommissioning is to end up in a scrapyard. After half a century of use by the military, the Independence is scheduled to be towed across the country and scrapped later this year.

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But a Washington State congressman hopes to use the ship, or others like it, for something different: A bridge that would double as a military memorial and a giant feat of recycling. By lining up two or three of the ships across an inlet, the carriers could create a partially-complete bridge.

U.S. Navy/Anna Van Nuys

“It’s really kind of unceremonious to watch these ships be sold and scrapped when there’s so much history inside,” says Rep. Jesse Young. “These have been pretty iconic since I was a kid. I grew up in the area and the shipyard has housed these carriers since I was a kid … for having been on some of the carriers, I have a greater appreciation for the engineering that goes into them.”

Young, who serves on the state transportation committee, realized that a bridge would be useful to link the towns of Bremerton and Port Orchard; right now, drivers fight heavy traffic for about eight miles to go around the inlet. But the expense of a conventional bridge would be a challenge to get through the state budget. Young believes the bridge could be much cheaper than starting from scratch.

“If you’re able to effectively cradle these two carriers in place end to end with a span in between them, once they’re cradled in, you have effectively two-thirds of your bridge span completed,” he says. “So we would expect to receive a lot of cost savings as a result of that … and you have the potential for the bridges to produce a huge economic bump and be a revenue producer for the district in terms of jobs and tourism.”

The state is working with an engineering firm to do a feasibility study of the project and determine the best potential design. There will likely be challenges; the huge size of the ships means they will also need huge anchors and potentially complicated maintenance. Young says the engineers are considering a design that would wall off the ships so they’re no longer exposed to water and the risk of rust. Until the study is complete, it won’t be clear exactly how much money or materials this kind of reuse can save.

U.S. Navy/Christopher D. Gaines

Though this particular inlet doesn’t get much boat traffic, Young says that ships could easily pass through. “With a two-carrier bridge formation there would be ample room on either end and even in between, because the carriers are so tall, the boats that would go through would have more than enough room to go through,” he says. “It would also provide for the tidal flow.”

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If the project is found feasible, it will also face the challenge of just getting the ships–right now, U.S. Navy policy allows for decommissioned ships to be used as museums, scrapped, or occasionally be turned into artificial reefs. As the first bridge made of ships, the project would have to get through some red tape.

Still, Young is hopeful that it may happen. “If you think about the fact that these were built over 50 years ago … the engineering was so innovative and ahead of its time then, so superior to what the world had ever seen, that even 20 years after they’ve been mothballed they can still be repurposed into another benefit to this nation. To repurpose these as a new engineering marvel would, I think, be the best way to honor our greatest generation.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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