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2000: Old bridge casts a memorable reflection upon Hannibal

Hannibal Courier-Post (MO) - Saturday, September 16, 2000

Author: MARY LOU MONTGOMERY, Courier-Post Editor

Almost lost in the excitement of today's dedication of the new bridge comes the stark realization that at the very same time the new bridge is opening ­ the old bridge will close. Transportation workers in both Missouri and Illinois are poised and ready to move barricades from one entrance ramp to the other, setting in action a plan to reroute traffic from the all-so-familiar roads we've traveled for six decades, to the brand new, concrete and steel entrance ramps leading to the new bridge. We've known this moment was coming since that day in July 1993 when the Illinois approach gave way to rising river water, closing a bridge that would not reopen until the following September. We knew there were problems with the bridge when MoDOT bridge crews spent the days in those lingering months patching, repairing and inspecting the old bridge, shoring it up to help it last a few more years. We knew there were problems every time we drove across the bridge, and saw chunks of concrete curbing chipped away, replaced by a view of the river below. We shook with the vibration of tractor trailer trucks when we stopped on the bridge for traffic congestion or work crews. We could feel the wind swaying us in midair over the greatest of all rivers. And only the bravest of drivers dared to cross the span's narrow lanes ­ with big trucks to the left and water to the right. We knew, deep in our hearts, that we were safe, though, because the engineers who work for our state transportation system told us so. Structurally sound, they'd say: If it wasn't, they'd close it. So a dozen times a month or more we'd make that trip across the bridge and back ­ if only just to sightsee. And there have been many sights to see. Dirt moving equipment; a crane as tall as a multi-story building; work trailers parked on access roads built above flood level; and concrete trucks with their barrels rolling, headed for the next pier pour. We've watched the progress of the new bridge, thinking little of the old bridge in the meantime. So today, let's reflect. The old bridge represents an era when traveling was an adventure, rather than a destination. A trip to Springfield, Ill., meant a journey through every little town along the way, at gas stations and four-way crossroads. There were mechanics on duty to repair a flat tire and to check your oil level, and diners where you could enjoy eggs for breakfast, cooked to order. The bridge at Hannibal was a breeze compared to the drawbridge along the Illinois River, where traffic routinely stopped for an oncoming barge. Today, traveling means speed rather than character, and the emphasis is on "getting there" rather than "going there." It's a subtle distinction, represented in the side-by-side comparison of our old and new bridges. Our old bridge closes at 5 p.m. Saturday. In less than a month, contractors will begin the process of tearing down what has existed for 64 years. Progress is good, we know, but reflection has it's place, too. Our landscape will change this weekend. Our way of life will be altered. A new era is dawning.

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