The George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge carries US Route 31 over the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky, and New Albany, Indiana. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Prior to World War I, Louisville, Kentucky was served by only one automobile span over the Ohio River into southern Indiana: the narrow and congested Kentucky & Indiana Terminal Bridge. It only connected Louisville to New Albany and not to the bustling city of Jeffersonville. The first mention to build a crossing between the two principal cities came in 1919 at a New Year Day’s reception from Robert Worth Bingham, publisher of the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. But any serious discussion began several years later in August 1923, when the Board of Trade formed a committee chaired by U.S. Senator Frederic M. Sackett to explore options for building a new bridge. 1
The Merchants & Manufacturers Association, along with the Louisville Automobile Club and other major proponents, endorsed the idea for the bridge. 1 Local communities and cities on both sides of the river supported the need for a new bridge, and newspapers ran favorable headlines.
A heated debate on financing the new bridge ensued in December 1923 after some suggested that tolls should be used to pay for the construction of the crossing and retired when the bonds are paid off, while others desired a free crossing, unlike the Terminal Bridge. 1 The discussion jeopardized approval ratings for the Louisville mayor, so the discussion was postponed until April 1925.
After conducting a study on the financial feasibility of a new Ohio River crossing, it was decided that the bridge would be financed with a toll that would pay for a $5 million bond issue. 1 In late 1926, the Kentucky General Assembly, with support from Kentucky Governor Fields, signed legislation that authorized the construction of the toll span and the creation of the Louisville Bridge Commission. This faced strong opposition which persuaded the Louisville general council to submit the issue of tolls to the voters. In October 1926, the Kentucky Highway Commission noted that the Louisville Bridge Commission lacked any right to spend money to maintain a free bridge. When the votes were tallied for the issue, voters opted to build a tolled crossing.
The bond issue went to the electorate in November 1927, but it failed to pass with a required two-thirds majority. 1 In January 1928, the Louisville Bridge Commission went to Stranahanm Harris & Oatis of Toledo, Ohio to obtain private financing for the span, with the bonds to be retired through tolls.
Design and Construction
Design work for the new Ohio River crossing began in September 1926, when the Louisville Bridge Commission hired architects Paul P. Cret and Ralph Modjeski, and Frank M. Masters. 1 In April 1928, a four-lane cantilevered design was approved, along with a location situated between Second and Main Streets in Louisville and Illinois Avenue in Jeffersonville.
Construction began in June by the American Bridge Company and the new Municipal Bridge was completed at the cost of $4.7 million in October 1929. 1 Toll rates were initially 35¢ until New Year’s Eve 1936 when the rate lowered to 25¢.
Tolls were collected until 1946 when the construction bonds were paid off early due to traffic generated from the opening of the Indiana Ordnance Works at Charlestown. 1 In 1949, the bridge was renamed the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge after the founder of Louisville.
By the early 1950s, the river crossing had become overburdened with traffic because of suburban residential growth in southern Indiana. Studies were conducted in 1952 and 1953 by Kentucky Senator Arthur Grafton, who also served as counsel to the Louisville Bridge Commission, which concluded that tolls should be reinstated in order to finance two new bridges between Louisville and Jeffersonville and Louisville and New Albany. 1
The thought of new tolls irked some, but with a stalemate in the progress of any new bridges to relieve congestion, the Courier-Journal wrote in 1955 that without new tolls on the Clark Bridge, there would be no funding for any additional spans. 1 The problem was resolved in 1956 when the Interstate Highway System was formed, eventually leading to the construction of the Sherman Minton Bridge at New Albany and the Kennedy Bridge at Jeffersonville.
The Clark Bridge was rehabilitated in 1958 and again between May and October 2010 with the replacement of handrails and sidewalks on the Kentucky approach, and the painting of the superstructure to a pastel yellow color at the cost of $2.5 million. 2
- State: Indiana, Kentucky
- Route: US Route 31
- Type: Warren Through Truss
- Status: Active - Automobile
- Total Length: 5,746 feet
- Main Span Length: 819.5 feet
- Deck Width: 38 feet
- Above Vertical Clearance: 13.5 feet
- Navigational Clearance:
- Kleber, John E. “Bridges, Automobile.” The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. 123. Print.
- Whitlow, Mike. “Major construction to begin on Clark Memorial Bridge.” WHAS11, 2 May 2010.