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End of an Era: Greenville Bridge Dismantled

February 17th, 2011 by

 

The center span of the old Greenville Bridge over the Mississippi was lowered to a barge on Tuesday afternoon as part of the demolition of the structure.  Courtesy of AshleyCountyLedger.com.

A history of the Greenville Bridge is posted below

~~~~~~~~~~~~
A History of the Greenville Bridge
Posted August 7, 2010

A long-awaited and much-anticipated event occurred recently in southeast Arkansas. The new “new Greenville bridge” was dedicated on Monday, July 26th. The bridge had been in development sixteen years since its initial planning stages began in 1994.

For a few minutes though I want to take you back in history to the time when the “old” Greenville bridge was the “new” bridge. This old bridge came into reality in 1940. That was nearly 70 years ago. In the 1930s Greenville, Mississippi, was known as the Queen City of the Delta. Greenville’s visionary mayor at the time, Milton C. Smith, felt that the city would develop further economically if there was a bridge connecting it to Arkansas.

In 1936 a task force of businessmen and leaders from three states formed the Arkansas-Mississippi-Alabama U. S. 82 Association to seek funds for a bridge connecting Greenville and Arkansas. Even though the whole country was struggling in the midst of the Great Depression and funds for such major projects were limited, Mayor Smith and John Fox, secretary of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, were determined and spent weeks at a time in Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress until they received funding so the work could begin.

Four short years later, on September 17, 1940, an estimated 5000+ people gathered from southeast Arkansas and across the Mississippi Delta for the dedication of the “new” Greenville bridge. Built at the then-staggering sum of $4.5 million, the bridge was opened as a “pathway of progress” for the Delta.

The bridge that was a premier project at the time has become a navigational hazard over the years. Like so many projects, architects or engineers fail to make ample allowances for future growth. Its traffic lanes are too narrow for today’s vehicles and there are no shoulders. It has been said that a flat tire can close the bridge because there is no room for passing. (I can personally remember the bridge being closed to traffic in the 1990s while my brother-in-law, a farmer, brought a combine across it. The modern combine was so wide that it spanned both lanes.)

The bridge was also built just south of a sharp bend in the river making it difficult for towboats and barges to make the turn and get “straightened out” before they came to the bridge. Over the years many haven’t been able to make the turn quickly and have hit the bridge. Although the bridge has been described as looking “light and delicate”, it has withstood many major incidents. It has been hit by vehicles on the span itself, by barges from below, and even once by an airplane from above! In 1951 a plane from the now-closed Greenville Air Force Base crashed into it!

In fact, the ever-increasing volumes of river traffic since 1972 has resulted in the Greenville bridge sustaining more “hits” than any bridge on the Mississippi River. Usually the bridge is closed a short time after a “hit” while engineers attest to its safety. Traditionally it has proved to be a “tough cookie” though!

One feature of the bridge that I recall from early childhood vacations to visit grandparents in Mississippi was a toll booth located on the Mississippi side. A toll fee was charged to cross in its earliest years and toll “books” containing ten tickets could be bought for $3.50 at one time.

However, I don’t recall a toll fee, but I do remember the questioning about and, I am told, confiscating of any plants going into the state. Daddy explained that, while Greenville may have been “queen”, cotton was still “king”! The state of Mississippi did not want any boll weevils coming from Arkansas! He said they were checking for plants or cotton products.

Over the past 7 decades the need for a new bridge has become increasingly apparent. A 1994 engineering study began to explore the construction of a new four lane span to replace the 1940 structure. (I found it interesting to learn that the same Kansas City, MO, firm that designed the “new” bridge also designed the “old” bridge as well as older Mississippi River bridges at Natchez, Vicksburg and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Evidently that firm also has longevity too.)

After much deliberation plans were adopted in 1999 to build the new U. S. Hwy 82 bridge a half mile south of the old one. It would be four lanes wide with ample shoulders. It was to be constructed with a stayed-cable design. However, the new bridge would take more than another decade to become a reality.

Federal funding allowed for the work on the middle span to begin in December, 2001, and be completed at a cost of $110M. However, each state was responsible for building its approach to the bridge. The Arkansas approach began in March, 2006, covers 1.25 miles of roadway and bridge, and cost $66M. The Mississippi approach was begun in April, 2006, is 1.8 miles long and cost almost $86 M. (The entire cost of the bridge totaled 336 million.)

As you approach the new Greenville bridge from a distance, it appears like two mighty sails rising high into the air. Passing alongside, it also resembles large alabaster sails. It is truly magnificent!

The bridge opened to traffic on Wednesday, August 4th. (At a later date, the old bridge will be taken apart piece by piece and hauled away to keep from blocking the river to traffic.) Before that happens, I want to go back and look at the “old” bridge from the “new”. I hope the new bridge will also be a “path of progress” to the Delta! It’s an hour drive from Monticello. Go and have a look for yourself! (You might enjoy the “cool” new Arkansas Welcome Center at Lake Village too.)

New photos courtesy of the Lake Village Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Welcome Center at Lake Village. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Posted July 27, 2010

New “Greenville Bridge” Dedicated Monday

The new “Greenville Bridge” was dedicated at a dual-state ceremony, Monday morning. 

According to AAHTD, the new bridge is a $336 million joint project of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The new bridge is scheduled to be open to traffic by the end of July and then the old bridge will be dismantled.

13 Responses to “End of an Era: Greenville Bridge Dismantled”

  1. Mark870 says:

    Why dismantle the old bridge? The old Vicksburg bridge stands and one would think that redundancy would be of the utmost importance these days. Maybe it would be too expensive to maintain or it’s not travel worthy, anyone know?

  2. Jason Caldwell says:

    I’m not saying that this official but I was told that the bridge was sold to a foreign country and will be dismantled and shipped and then rebuilt.

  3. '10 UAM Grad says:

    The new bridge looks great!

  4. janette says:

    LOVE THE OLD BRIDGE , HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR THE HISTORY OF IT FOR YEARS, MAYBE SOMEONE OUT THERE HAS INFO!!!

  5. Mark Mason says:

    It’s a navigation hazard to barges.

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    The Steel of the old bridge was bought by china and is going to be shipped to them. I am originaly from Chicot County and I do know that the old bridge has been struck several times by barges an has had to be closed for short periods of time because of the matter. I remember when I was a kid my grandpaw telling me about when that bridge was being built and he said it was a beautiful thing seeing something so big being built in that area. But I have got to say the new bridge has been a long time coming and it is nice.

  7. drew co. citizen says:

    maybe north main could come together and save the old bridge after all it is historic to southeast arkansas

  8. Mark870 says:

    I was over there for my last ride across Monday night, I won’t miss that old bridge. I think it opened in the late 30′s or early 40′s. China gets the prize, that figures. I am sure they got a great deal from the USA.

  9. leroy says:

    its the 8-04 and old bridge still open and new one still closed.there painting the lines going up to bridge on new part of road and road blocks still up.

  10. Andrew Goodwin Gibbs says:

    I came through Greenville on business two weeks ago and I marveled at all the signs extolling our President, Congress and other Bureaucrats yet there were no warnings about the multiple areas of two level pavement. I almost ripped the front end of my old Volvo out three or four times.

    The bridge is a good thing. Its construction spurned new jobs and its presence will facilitate continued barge traffic which is critical to food an energy distribution. 400,000 gallons of fuel can be transported from a refinery in Houston to points North at half of the cost of over the road transportation.

  11. AM says:

    Bridges scare me anyway. Just hope the new one is totally safe and secure. At least we knew what to expect with the old one!

  12. NayNay says:

    I live in lake village ar and work in Greenville ms so I drive over the bridge twice a day. Soooo happy the new one is complete! They can’t leave the old bridge because it’s in a bad spot and barges don’t have enough time to straighten out. They say if you saw the bridge under the water no one would dare cross it! It was a wicked feeling when you would get stopped on the bridge and could feel it sway back and forth. I’ll miss it!

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