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Caruthersville Bridge (Caruthersville, MO)

 

Located near the town of Caruthersville, MO, the Caruthersville Bridge spans the Mississippi River as part of Interstate 155 and US Highway 412 between the Missouri Bootheel and northwest Tennessee near Dyersburg. Officially, it’s the northernmost bridge on the lower Mississippi River, which is defined to begin at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at Fort Defiance near Cairo, IL. It's also the lone crossing of the river connecting the states of Missouri and Tennessee.

In the years following World War II, the states of the Mississippi Valley region sought to improve connectivity between them across the Mississippi River. Numerous outdated ferry crossings existed in those days, however these connections were tenuous and oftentimes dependent of river and weather conditions for their reliability. The states of Missouri and Tennessee approved a study for a new bridge in the vicinity of Caruthersville in 1949, with a site being chosen and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by 1953. Funding for the project was ensured by the creation of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, as this corridor was selected to be part of the broader 42,500 mile national “Interstate” highway system that would be funded primarily by the federal government.

Construction of the bridge began in 1969 and was completed in 1976, at a cost of $26 million. One look at this bridge reveals that it contains a very unusual and asymmetrical superstructure, which is unique on the lower Mississippi River. The longer of the two main spans is 920 ft long, resting 100 ft above the river. The structure supports a four-lane interstate-standard roadway with full shoulders on the right. Temporary falsework piers had to be built in the river in order for the out-of-balance weight of the structure to remain in place as it was being assembled. It’s a practice that although innovative for its time, has largely been phased out due to worker/maritime safety considerations. The means and methods that contractors use to build bridges nowadays have been greatly simplified due to the introduction of modern, streamlined processes and bridge designs that reduce the risk of on-site incidents. With that being the case, it’s unlikely that a bridge like this one will be built again anytime soon. (We may therefore see this bridge as a rarity that should be mentioned rather than forgotten about.)

A final design consideration at this location is its proximity to the New Madrid Seismic Zone, with the bridge being located about 30 miles downriver from the titular Missouri village. At the time of its design and construction, the underlying complexity and potential power of this fault system was not well understood and this bridge was not built with seismic resilience in mind. In the years since, other structures along the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis have been retrofitted as the history and potential of the New Madrid Fault have come into clearer focus. That said, no such work has taken place at Caruthersville as of the writing of this post in January 2024. Proposals to improve the stability of the bridge’s foundations and superstructure connections have gone unbuilt to this point due to prohibitively high costs.

The bridge was incorporated into the larger Interstate 155 corridor upon completion, which connects Interstate 55 near Hayti, MO with US Highway 51 in Dyersburg, TN. Since the 1980s, the bridge has also been part of the US 412 corridor, which stretches westward from Tennessee as far as eastern New Mexico. The US 51 corridor through western Tennessee is also part of the future Interstate 69 corridor, intended to seamlessly connect south Texas and the Mexico border with the Great Lakes region and southern Canada. This means that the potential exists for the I-155 corridor and the Caruthersville Bridge to serve an important role in the future by connecting two long-distance north/south interstates in the nation’s Mid-South region. In addition, this bridge is the lone Mississippi River bridge for over 200 river miles between Cairo, IL and Memphis, TN. Given these realities, its value to the local and regional transportation system cannot be understated and it is indeed far from a useless crossing.

As far as my documentation of this bridge is concerned, this is one of those locations I’d like to have the opportunity to revisit at some point in the future. My lone visit to the bridge took place in May 2019, prior to me getting involved with aerial/drone photography. The only photos I’ve collected of this bridge were taken from along the highway, though it’s my understanding that there’s at least one decent vantage point along the Tennessee side of the river that would be worth checking out.

The following photos from my May 2019 visit to the Caruthersville Bridge showcase the eastbound crossing of the bridge from Missouri to Tennessee. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

The following photos from my May 2019 visit to the Caruthersville Bridge showcase the westbound crossing of the bridge from Missouri to Tennessee. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

Dashcam video of the eastbound drive over the I-155 Caruthersville Bridge was filmed in May 2019 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

Dashcam video of the westbound drive over the I-155 Caruthersville Bridge was filmed in May 2019 for the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel and is available for viewing at the link below:

The Caruthersville Bridge was featured in the "Bridges of the Lower Mississippi River" webinar on the 'roadwaywiz' YouTube channel, beginning at the 12:08 mark:

How To Get There:

Further Reading:
Caruthersville Bridge by John Weeks

Bridges, Crossings, and Structures of the Lower Mississippi River
Next Crossing upriver: Dorena-Hickman Ferry (Hickman, KY)
Next Crossing downriver: Hernando de Soto Bridge (Memphis, TN)
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Comments

Anonymous said…
On the Tennessee side you can drive down under the bridge and really see the bones. Take the Great River Road Exit and go North. Take the 2nd road on the left and you can’t miss it.

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