The longest bridge in Missouri has a past that includes innovative solutions. But its design was affected by growth and development that ultimately led to many lost lives. At the time, this double-decker bridge felt like a godsend. It freed up the bottleneck traffic from the only other bridge crossing the Mississippi River in the area. It did so without any toll charges to the passing vehicles.
Although it was built to service vehicles and rail cars, it interestingly ended up taking turns on each deck due to unforeseen circumstances. The bridge’s design and faster-moving vehicles spelled tragedy for many. However, the bridge still holds a special place in the heart of St. Louis for its historical impact and for the way it has stood the test of time.
History Of The Longest Bridge In Missouri
The longest bridge in Missouri is the MacArthur Bridge. Although the MacArthur Bridge was ready for service in 1912, financial setbacks meant the public had to wait another five years before it was opened to the public in 1917. This unique double-decker bridge was revered for being the only toll-free bridge at the time.
The city of St. Louis built the bridge as a way to free up traffic from the Eads Bridge. This was the only other access point for road traffic to cross over the Mississippi River. In 1928, it finally opened for rail traffic but despite this, it was not used for another two decades. Later, in 1942, it was renamed to honor World War II General Douglas MacArthur.
The MacArthur Bridge is a total of 18,261 feet long. It carried traffic from the famed Route 66 into the state of Missouri. It remained popular, even after a small toll of 10 cents was introduced. However, as road vehicles reached higher speeds and there was greater traffic, many accidents occurred on the bridge. So many cars fell after hitting the rails that it was dubbed, “Death’s diving board.” Although the many unfortunate accidents led to its darkened reputation, it was ultimately the introduction of interstate highways that led to its demise.
Current Status Of The MacArthur Bridge
In 1967, the newly opened Poplar Street Bridge took most of the traffic away from the MacArthur Bridge. This left it deteriorated after being used for decades. In 1981, it was finally closed to vehicles and became used solely as a rail bridge. Finally, in 1989, the Terminal Railroad Association took ownership of the MacArthur Bridge. The association was adamant about maintaining it solely as a rail bridge. Despite its blemished history, the longest bridge in Missouri remains one of St. Louis’ most awe-inspiring engineering feats. Its formidable size, height, and length make up for what it lacks in grace.
Where Is The MacArthur Bridge Located On A Map?
The MacArthur Bridge is located in St. Louis, where it connects the city of St. Louis, Missouri with East St. Louis, Illinois over the Mississippi River. Missouri is located in the mid-west region of the United States. It is bordered by Nebraska to the northwest, Iowa to the north, Illinois to the east, Kentucky to the southeast, Tennesee and Arkansas to the south, Oklahoma to the southwest, and Kansas to the west. St. Louis is in the eastern portion of the state and lies on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
Wildlife Surrounding The MacArthur Bridge
The area surrounding the Mississippi River has changed substantially over the years. However, there is still plenty of wildlife thriving around it. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area highlights the many fish species that can be found in the river. To be fair, the fish throughout the river aren’t typically visible. You have to head out onto the river with a fishing pole in hand.
There were times in the past when the fish population was devastatingly low. This brought conservation groups, concerned citizens, and the government together to work toward restoring the quality and diversity of the river’s fish. Some of the species that call the Mississippi River home include long-nosed gar, skipjack herring, flathead, and channel catfish. You can also find common carp, gizzard shad, white sucker, river redhorse, silver and black carp, bluegill, white bass, smallmouth bass, and northern pike, among others.
Changes To The MacArthur Bridge
In 2012, the Terminal Railroad Association planned to use funds it received from a federal grant to remove all the remaining sections of the MacArthur Bridge’s top road deck. There was some concern about this action affecting the bridge’s eligibility to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore, a Section 106 review was scheduled.
The Preservation Research Office (PRO) followed through with the review to determine if the removal of the road deck would have an adverse impact. In the end, it was deemed that the removal of the already severely compromised road deck would not impact the historic elements of the bridge. This means it was still eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2019, the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis announced that the Federal Railroad Administration had granted it $28.8 million to rehabilitate MacArthur Bridge by replacing its main span girders. This is a critical aspect of the bridge that had been untouched since it was built in 1912. With ongoing maintenance, MacArthur Bridge can continue to keep the rail connection in functional order. With these changes, the MacArthur Bridge can be counted on to serve the St. Louis rail network safely and efficiently for many years into the future.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/fotoguy22
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