The People's Tribune

Hundreds Attend Champ Clark Bridge Dedication

More Than Double The Size Of Old Span The $63 Million Bridge Is Expected To Last A Century

Hundreds of people from both sides of the Mississippi River took one of their last trips across the over 90-year-old Champ Clark Bridge to attend the dedication ceremony of the new span that was held on Saturday, Aug. 3 at about 6:30 p.m.

It was a great turnout and folks were permitted to walk across the new bridge and take in the sights prior to the ceremony. After the conclusion of the dedication and ribbon-cutting, the new bridge was opened to traffic.

The project cost $63 million, which was shared between the two states. It was decided early in the process that the bridge would continue to be named for Champ Clark, the former Speaker of the House who came just shy of serving as President of the United States.

Champ Clark lived in Louisiana and Bowling Green during his lifetime and his historic home, Honey Shuck, is open for display in Bowling Green.

Clark’s great-grandson, Ben, served as the keynote speaker at the event on Saturday. He discussed his great-grandfather and noted that he would be pleased that a structure that joins communities would be named in his honor.

The old bridge was formally dedicated on June 9, 1928 and was a toll bridge for many years. Ray Dolbeare, of Kinderhook, paid the final 50-cent toll to cross on Saturday, June 17, 1952. Dolbeare had relatives at the event on Saturday.

Several other people were also recognized including 107-year-old Corrine Utterback and those who helped to get the project off the ground by serving on a citizen committee.

A great deal of state and local officials were also on hand for the historic ceremony on Saturday. Members of American Legion Post 37 presented the colors and Pam Ince, of Louisiana, sang the National Anthem.

Project Director Keith Killen introduced the speakers and offered a warm welcome to those in attendance.

The crowd heard from MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna and Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman. A blessing of the new span was offered by Pastor John Kroeze.

The old bridge was just 20-feet wide and was beginning to suffer structural problems. It would also have to be closed during high water situations due to flooding on the Illinois approach.

That will no longer be an issue. The new span is designed to provide a century of service, including a durable overlay to extend the life of the deck. The structure feature 12-foot lanes and 10-foot shoulders to provide a safe and efficient gateway to move motorists and truck traffic across the Mississippi River.

One of the project’s early and most serious advocates was former Louisiana mayor Bart Niedner. He would later serve on a citizen committee for the project but pointed out that during his time in office it was a battle to convince authorities that a new bridge was necessary.

“For many years, the greatest threat to the Twin Pike Counties was the deteriorating condition of the Champ Clark Bridge,” Niedner explained. “Increasing maintenance costs and poor safety conditions meant the bridge’s closure was imminent. We were one bad inspection away from having that vital conduit closed for good. And there was tremendous pressure not to replace it. A rival plan to route the river-crossing through Hannibal was gaining momentum. The state of Missouri was faced with two options: we either close the Champ Clark Bridge or we replace it.”

He noted that with fantastic community and state allies, they took their case directly to Jefferson City and fought to replace the Champ Clark Bridge.

“It was far from a certain outcome, but rural resilience and the honest truth about our combined communities eventually won the day. When I made the formal presentation to the State Highways and Transportation Commission, there was one particular moment when I saw the commissioners sit up and take notice. They expected the very real safety arguments and economic impact statements. But I don’t think they expected the human stories. I was armed with 200 comments from members of our community whose lives have grown entwined across the bridge. Each spoke to what the bridge directly meant to their lives. I believe it was these stories from the people of the Twin Pike region that ultimately tipped the scales and made the replacement of the Champ Clark Bridge possible,” Niedner remarked.

He pointed out that completion of the bridge means there is no longer need to worry that heritage may be lost as the small towns relying on this bridge would have slowly died and disappeared.

“In fact, we can now celebrate a guarantee that we will have the opportunity to do the hard work which has always been our task if we are to be prosperous and happy,” Niedner continued. “The new bridge does not guarantee our success; but we are not a people who look for such an assurance. We are a people who are willing to work hard and take pride in our individual and collective industry.”

Niedner asserted that the bridge ensures the pursuit of success.

“It gives us hope which we must now imbue with perseverance and rural determination as we build the Twin Pike region into the best version of itself for ourselves and our children. One need only look to the story of making this bridge a reality to know we are up to this task. The Champ Clark Bridge is truly a monument to the strength and resilience of our people. I am proud of our communities and look forward to the bright future of the Twin Pike region.”

Marvin Brown, current Mayor of Louisiana, pointed to the efforts of Niedner and others as part of the success of the project.

“With budgets for roads and bridges as tight as they are, it really is a testament to folks like former Mayor Bart Niedner and our State Representative Jim Hansen to have secured the support necessary to replace the Champ Clark Bridge,” Brown said. “For Louisiana this new bridge is going to be an immense benefit, generating more traffic through our town which should surely lead to more business opportunities and community growth. And the dedication ceremony Saturday was special. It was a well deserved victory lap for the folks at MODOT, IDOT and Massman Engineering and more than fitting that Champ Clark’s grandson was able to remind us why continuing to name the new bridge after his grandfather was a fitting decision.”

The new bridge is now open to regular traffic. The old bridge is now closed to through traffic, but will remain accessible from the Missouri side to those who need to access the marina on the Illinois side.

Once Massman Construction completes the work in front of the marina to connect it to the new section of highway, the old bridge will close permanently. Right now it appears that demolition of the old span will begin over the next few months.

For more information on the Champ Clark Bridge, visit www.champclarkbridge.com.

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