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Harahan Bridge

Big River Crossing

Harahan Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: November 6, 2016

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Key Facts

Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Railroad (Union Pacific) and Big River Crossing Over Mississippi River
Location
Memphis: Shelby County, Tennessee and Crittenden County, Arkansas: United States
Structure Type
Metal Cantilever 26 Panel Multiple-Type-Connected Baltimore Through Truss, Fixed and Approach Spans: Metal 10 Panel Pin-Connected Inverted Bowstring Deck Truss, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1916 By Builder/Contractor: Pennsylvania Steel Company of Steelton, Pennsylvania and Engineer/Design: Ralph Modjeski

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
2016
Main Span Length
790.4 Feet (240.91 Meters)
Structure Length
4973 Feet (1515.77 Meters)
Roadway Width
Not Available
Spans
4 Main Span(s)
NBI Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)

Bridge Documentation

View Historical Articles About This Bridge

View Historical Thesis About This Bridge

View Tennessee Historic Bridge Report For This Historic Bridge

View the Official Big River Crossing Website

This bridge is a nationally significant historic bridge all on its own. What makes this setting even more unique is that this bridge sits right next to an even more significant historic bridge, the Frisco Bridge. To top this all off, the highway bridge that is also next to these two railroad bridges is also historic, and is the Memphis and Arkansas Bridge. Three historic cantilever truss bridges over the Mississippi River side by side, two of those bridges being nationally signficant: there is no other historic bridge trio like this in North America.

While the Frisco Bridge was designed by one of the greatest bridge engineers of the 19th Century, the Harahan Bridge was similarly designed by one of the 20th Century's greatest bridge engineers, Ralph Modjeski. As such, works by two of the greatest engineers of their respective centuries can be seen side-by-side. This affords a unique comparison between both engineering thinking, and also changing needs of two different periods in railroad history.

The Harahan Bridge was designed to carry railroad traffic in between truss lines, and highway traffic on cantilevered decks outside of the truss lines. The construction of the Memphis and Arkansas Bridge ended the use of the Harahan Bridge for vehicular traffic. In 2016 however, a unique project converted the north vehicular deck into a pedestrian walkway named the Big River Crossing. This new walkway is unique because of its size, and also because it is rare for a railroad company to allow a public walkway to exist on one of their bridges. As might be expected, substantial fencing separates pedestrians from the railroad tracks. However, the truss is so large that despite the fencing, the walkway still offers excellent up-close views of the impressive details of the truss. Another important aspect of the walkway is that despite addition of modern railing on the outside, the original riveted lattice railings for the vehicular deck were not removed. This helps convey the former vehicular usage of the deck, and also maintains the original appearance of the bridge.

As part of the walkway, a modern full-color decorative lighting system was also installed, allowing for impressive light shows to bathe the entire bridge in a rainbow of animated colors. Note that if you visit this bridge in the evening and do not see the lights in operation, it may be due to a train or barge in the area, as this was a condition for the operation of the lighting system.

Above: Historical photo showing bridge construction.

Above: Historical photo showing bridge construction. Shown here is a 50 ton wedge used to adjust the position of the top chord near the suspended span. This was needed to fit the pieces together.

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