The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 29, 2012

Jo Ellis: Carthage bridge work takes travelers on detour into history

CARTHAGE, Mo. — Folks living north and east of Carthage have about three more months of using alternative routes to travel from the city to home.

Replacement of the Missouri Highway 96 bridge over Spring River is on schedule for completion around the end of October, according to Angela Eden, senior community relations specialist with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, the designated detours for Highway 96 within the city have been modified temporarily to avoid the use of Fairview Avenue during Marian Days, which typically brings 40,000 to 60,000 visitors to town for the three-day religious celebration.

Eden said the new bridge will cost an estimated $1.4 million.

The bridge was built in 1953 in conjunction with the development of Kellogg Lake Park. It replaced a 1925 iron-truss bridge just to the south that carried the original Route 66 into the city from the east. The approaches to that bridge are still in evidence at the south end of the park.

One of the alternative routes being used takes residents across the three bridges on U.S. 571, which becomes Garrison Avenue and empties into the center of town. The southernmost bridge crosses the Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad tracks, the middle one crosses Spring River, and the northernmost spans an overflow of the river.

These bridges were built in 1928, and people are understandably a bit concerned about their safety. It’s a little difficult to comprehend how an 84-year-old bridge is in better condition than a 59-year-old bridge, but Dan Salisbury, with MoDOT’s District 7 office, said looks and age don’t always matter when evaluating bridge safety.

Regular two-year inspections of the bridges indicate that on a scale of nine, the 1928 bridges come in at a four or five (poor to fair condition), while the 1953 bridge received only a three rating (serious condition) on its decking and was considered structurally deficient.

“It is hard to make a call,” Salisbury said, noting that many factors could be responsible for the deterioration. “It could be how much salt was used on it, or it could be how it was built.”

While researching this column, I ran across some interesting historical notes. With Carthage pretty much nestled in a bend of Spring River, access from the north and east was a definite problem in early times. Fording or ferrying across the river were the only solutions.

The clamor from people living in those areas grew so strong that on June 9, 1887, the County Court finally awarded a contract for stone work on two bridges over Spring River to C.W. Aulls for $1,748. A city committee awarded a contract for two iron bridges to the Missouri Valley Bridge Co. of Leavenworth, Kan., for $3,200.

Those bridges preceded the 1928 concrete bridges we’re still traveling on today. The bridges originally featured light standards that gave off enough illumination to earn the title of Carthage’s own Great White Way.

So, until the Highway 96 bridge is completed, rather than thinking I’m driving on an 84-year-old bridge, I’m going to strive to think how beautiful it would have been driving on the Great White Way.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email news@joplinglobe.com.

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