Cairo’s Bridges

Cairo Bridge

Connecting Cairo, Illinois are two significant cantilever truss automobile bridges to Kentucky and Missouri and replaced the last of the ferries that operated at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The first of the bridges to be completed was a crossing between Cairo and Missouri. Designed by Waddell & Hardesty and constructed by the American Bridge Company and the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Company, the two-lane Warren through truss was finished in 1929. It was extensively rehabilitated in 1981 and again in 2015. It is notable for not just its three cantilever spans but for its elongated through truss spans on its approaches, giving it a tunnel-like appearance while driving through the structure.

It was complemented with a crossing between Cairo and Kentucky in 1938. Designed by Modjeski & Masters, one of the most noted bridge design firms in North America, the two-lane Warren through truss was the longest crossing in the Commonwealth of Kentucky at the time of its completion with a total length of 5,865 feet. The bridge was extensively rehabilitated in 1977-79 and again in 1999. It is scheduled to be replaced with a new span upstream because of structural and functional deficiencies – including its likelihood of collapsing in an earthquake as it well within the New Madrid Seismic Zone.

These two bridges may not be the most important structures across the rivers but they do provide a critical connection for commuters and more so for local merchants and farmers who rely on these two connectors daily, more so during harvest season in autumn. When the Kentucky-Illinois bridge was extensively rehabilitated in the 1970s, it was proposed to close the structure down to all traffic for a few months while the roadway deck was replaced. That caused outrage amongst farmers who depended upon it for grain shipments and to a local paper mill that was dependent upon it for its day-to-day operations, not to say that it caused outrage amongst commuters to and from Cairo which was still a modestly sized commercial and industrial center. It led to the Kentucky Department of Highways modifying its plans to only allow for one-lane traffic for two years. And on the early autumn morning that I was flying over the bridge for these photos, I could hear the rumble of the constant stream of tractor-trailers that were pounding over the crossing.

1 thought on “Cairo’s Bridges”

  1. My first time over these 2 bridges I was awestruck! I had no idea of their significance or history…I just knew I’d be going over some bridges. Back in 1980 I was 22 yrs old and visiting Benton Ky from Massachusetts. I borrowed a car just so that I could cross the Mississippi so that I could bring back some Coors beer, as at that time it was not available east of the river!!! I thought it was weird that the lanes were so tight giving the impression of tunnel vison. I had the opportunity to go over them a couple of more times in the early 80’s and completely forgot about them until I became a roadgeek and found some news about them years later. Three states, two bridges within the span of 3 miles!

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