A new bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis! After years of wrangling and controversy, it was finally happening. The Mayor proclaimed the bridge to be “an advertisement to the world that St. Louis is determined to move forward with the other great cities of the country.”
Those words could describe the new I-70 bridge under construction over the Mississippi north of downtown, but they were published almost 100 years ago, describing the St. Louis Municipal Bridge, later renamed the MacArthur Bridge. If you’re uncertain as to where the MacArthur Bridge is, it’s just south of the Poplar Street Bridge. It was closed to automobile traffic in 1981. It still carries rail traffic, but it is a rusting hulk of its former grandeur.
From the east, the auto approach departs Piggott Avenue in East St. Louis, soars over streets like Paradise and Victory Avenues and then abruptly ends in mid air seven blocks later. The truncated approach on the west side of the river begins at 7th street and continues across the river, but it is inaccessible to regular traffic.
Beneath the road deck is an active railroad deck, fed by a tangle of approaches that weave a black, industrial web. Mounds of rusting metal chips surround the footings of the bridge. Those chips used to be part of the bridge.
Great structures, designed to nurture future prosperity, often end up like the MacArthur Bridge — grand in their day but now sad, decaying monuments to the past.
Ever wonder what the new I-70 bridge will be like 100 years from now?
Before Bill Kesler retired in 2007 as vice-president of production for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he worked for more than 20 years as a photojournalist.