The Horrors of the Poplar Street Bridge

The Mississippi is a wide river, even as far north as St. Louis. Crossing it can be a hassle, especially in Downtown St. Louis. Since 1967, there have been four bridges downtown, two north of the St. Louis Arch and two south of it. And yet, all of the major highways are squashed onto one nightmare of a crossing: the Poplar Street Bridge.

Poplar Street Bridge Diagram

A Brief History of St. Louis Bridges

Let’s take a look at the downtown St. Louis bridges, from oldest to newest.

Eads Bridge

Completed in 1974, the Eads Bridge was a marvel of 19th century engineering. For over a century it carried passenger trains across the river. Today, it carries the MetroLink Light Rail, as well as a surface street connecting the casinos in East St. Louis to the entertainment district of Laclede’s Landing.

MacArthur Bridge

The MacArthur Bridge was opened in 1917 for automotive traffic. A few years later, it added a second deck for rail traffic. Eventually it became a rail-only bridge, and to this day, it still carries Amtrak trains across the Mississippi. I have crossed this bridge on rail, and from the right angle, it’s possible to see the river a hundred feet below.

Martin Luther King Bridge

Originally called the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge, the Martin Luther King Bridge opened as a toll bridge in 1951. While it carried US 40 and US 66 for a while, it could never compete with free bridges. In 1990, the toll was removed, as the aging bridge was not able to handle major traffic flow. Still, it does occasionally take overflow from the Poplar Street Bridge.

Poplar Street Bridge

The Poplar Street Bridge is officially called the Bernard F. Dickmann Bridge, but nobody calls it that. (Most St. Louisans probably don’t even know the bridge’s official name.) It’s a boring-looking concrete bridge, completed in 1967. The only thing that makes it notable is the insane amount of traffic crossing it. Basically, the Eads, MLK and MacArthur bridges are too old and decrepit to handle modern freeways, so everything gets bottlenecked across this one span. The real mystery here is why it’s taken them almost fifty years to do something about it.

The Newest Addition

The New Mississippi River Bridge is set to open in 2015, 48 years after the Poplar Street Bridge. When it’s completed, Interstate 70 will be rerouted across it, hopefully easing traffic on the Poplar Street Bridge. The bridge doesn’t have a name yet, since Missouri and Illinois can’t seem to agree on one.

A Vital Crossing

Having lived in both in the City of St. Louis and the suburbs of St. Clair County, Illinois, I can tell you firsthand that the Mississippi River crossings are vital to the region. And while I’m amazed that it’s taken this long, I am excited about the newest bridge. Next time I visit St. Louis, I’ll try to get some pictures to post on this blog.

Have you ever driven across the Poplar Street Bridge, or any of the other bridges in the St. Louis area? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at http://steve-lovelace.com.

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