The People's Tribune

Groundbreaking Celebration Held For Champ Clark Bridge Project

Blue skies and warm weather greeted those who attended groundbreaking ceremony for the new Champ Clark Bridge at the riverfront in Louisiana on Friday, Sept. 8.

The $60 million project took another step to reality as a large crowd gathered for the celebration. Several officials spoke at the event including J. Bennett Clark, the great-grandson of Champ Clark.

Clark noted he was gratified and pointed out the bridge will be a physical achievement as well as a symbolic one.

Louisiana Mayor Bart Niedner noted the bridge is critical to the future of the area.

“Well past its designed lifetime, this span across the Mississippi is one of the last Carnegie steel bridges left in operation. In the past decade this 1928 bridge has required increasing load restrictions and ever-rising maintenance costs. At only 20-feet wide, the narrow bridge has also become a safety concern for modern vehicular traffic.”

He added that the states were faced with two options of closing or replacing it.

“With companies like Stark Bro’s shipping a million trees a year across the bridge, or Trailerman shipping 80 percent of its product across the bridge or 45 percent of Eagles Nest B&B guest coming across the bridge, with roughly 18 percent of our workforce commuting across the bridge – the local impact is a driver for nearly every business in the Louisiana area,” Niedner pointed out.

The mayor further addressed the safety aspect of the need for a new bridge. He pointed out the area lost Kyle Brown, son of businessman Cameron Brown, who was killed trying to avoid a logging truck in December of 2011.

“But it is not just safety,” Niedner stated. “The human concern is about our social fabric. In fact it was the human stories about rural lives straddling the Mississippi which seemed to catch the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission’s ear in March of 2015. They were well-versed in the economic and safety concerns, but the human stories made it all real.”

He went on to point out that families live on either side of the bridge and would be separated by long drives without it.

Niedner concluded with pointing out why celebrating the new bridge is so important.

“It means that there is hope. We need no longer worry that our heritage may be lost as the small towns relying on this bridge slowly die and disappear. If fact, we are celebrating a guarantee that we will have the opportunity to do the hard work which has always been our task if we are to be properous and happy,” he remarked. “We are a people who are willing to work hard and take pride in our individual and collective industry. This new bridge ensures our pursuit of success.”

Others speaking at the celebration included MoDOT Northeast District Engineer Paula Gough, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna, Illinois Secretary of Transportation Randall Blankenhorn and Pike County Illinois Chairman Andy Borrowman.

A total of 25 officials and representatives took a shovel of Missouri dirt and Illinois dirt from wheelbarrows to mark the ground-breaking. The Louisiana High School marching band provided musical selections and the colors were posted by members of American Legion Post #370.

Commemorative metal pails were also provided to those who attended. Guests were encouraged to take some dirt from Missouri and some from Illinois to remember the occasion.

Those who attended were pleased with the ceremony. Several noticed a bald eagle flying overhead as Clark’s great-grandson spoke.

“I thought the most dramatic part of the day was when the bald eagle flew directly over the ceremony. Louisiana is used to eagles because they nest nearby, but usually are seen only during the winter. They also are very shy birds and often steer clear of crowds. Perhaps this eagle was the soul of Kyle Brown, who was killed in an accident on the existing bridge. Perhaps it was just a sign that the new structure is such a necessity for the heartland of America’s byways,” Brent Engel noted.

The project will provide an open span with 12-foot driving lanes with 10-foot shoulders. It is estimated that more than 4,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day. The $60 million project is being funded by both states and a grant. It is slated to open in Fall of 2019. Work on the intersection in Louisiana will be the first order of business.

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