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FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: New Mark Twain Memorial Bridge opened

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On September 16, 2000, the second Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River between Missouri and Illinois, was formally opened. The through truss bridge connects Hannibal, Missouri, which was the childhood home of renowned writer and humorist Samuel Langhorne Clemens (better known as Mark Twain), with Levee Township in Illinois.

A souvenir postcard of the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. (Image: Darlene's Vintage Postcards)
A souvenir postcard of the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. (Image: Darlene’s Vintage Postcards)

The original bridge

The “new” Mark Twain Memorial Bridge was built just north of the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. That bridge was formally opened on September 4, 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of the reasons that Roosevelt attended the bridge opening was because it had been built as a Public Works Administration project. The Public Works Administration was a New Deal agency created by the Roosevelt administration. 

A ticket for the dedication of Mark Twain Bridge in Hannibal, Missouri in 1936.
(Image from the Dave Thomson collection)
A ticket for the dedication of Mark Twain Memorial Bridge in Hannibal, Missouri in 1936.
(Image from the Dave Thomson collection)

The bridge was tolled from its opening until October 30, 1940. A major rehabilitation project took place during 1982, but the original cantilevered through truss bridge became increasingly obsolete. Two key reasons were the significant growth in motor vehicle traffic in the area. as well as the increase in the number and size of Class 8 trucks. The Associated Press (AP) pointed out the deficiencies in the original bridge when the second bridge opened. “Its two lanes are narrow,” reported AP. “Potholes have been filled time and again. Exposed rods jut out from deteriorating concrete.” It also noted, “Many a driver found religion as a passing 18-wheeler caused an uncomfortable bounce on the roadway.” 

The original bridge. (Photo: Missouri State Archives)
The original bridge. (Photo: Missouri State Archives)

The new bridge cost $55 million. It carries both Interstate 72 and U.S. Highway 36 over the Mississippi River. During the construction project, U.S. 36 was rerouted farther north (to the new bridge), which eliminated a dangerous and sharp curve on the Missouri approach to the original bridge. The state of Missouri erected a stone picture of Twain on the Missouri side of the bridge.

The original WPA marker installed in 1935 on the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge. (Photo:  Cosmos Mariner/hmdb.org)
The original WPA marker installed in 1935 on the original Mark Twain Memorial Bridge.
(Photo: Cosmos Mariner/hmdb.org)

The new bridge

The second Mark Twain Memorial Bridge has a total length of 4,491 feet, is 86 feet wide, and its longest span is 640 feet. 

The new bridge from the east. (Photo: James Baughn/bridgehunter.com)
The new bridge from the east.
(Photo: James Baughn/bridgehunter.com)

Several thousand people turned out for the opening of the new bridge 22 years ago today. Public officials on hand for those dedication ceremonies included Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan (just a month before he was killed in an airplane crash); and both of Missouri’s U.S. senators, John Ashcroft and Kit Bond. The opening of the bridge was a day-long celebration, featuring music and the opportunity to walk across the new bridge. 

Mark Twain Memorial Bridge Marker. (Photo: Cosmos Mariner/hmdb.org)
Mark Twain Memorial Bridge Marker. (Photo: Cosmos Mariner/hmdb.org)

The bridge also caused the Hannibal Courier-Post to publish an extra edition – the newspaper’s first since the end of World War II. Editor Mary Lou Montgomery explained, “The excitement over the bridge dedication is tremendous, and we’re responding to that excitement.”

While the new bridge is wider, safer and more capable of carrying 21st century traffic, many still have fond memories of the original bridge.

FreightWaves Classics thanks the Associated Press, 101theeagle.com, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Archives and other sources for information and photographs that contributed to this article, 

Photos of the original bridge and plaque. (Photos: Steven Bushko/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
Photos of the original bridge and plaque. (Photos: Steven Bushko/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

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Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.