End of an Era: Greenville Bridge DismantledFebruary 17th, 2011 by Sheilla Lampkin
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.