New Media Producer: Amanda Lents
Henderson, KY. - When Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Engineers developed plans to run three lanes of traffic on what is normally a two lane bridge, some Henderson-Evansville area commuters thought that a bit unusual.
However, a check of area newspapers from 1932 shows that the original bridge carried three lanes of traffic when it first opened that year.
According to Chief District Engineer Ted Merryman, traffic was pretty much grid locked around the bridge the first two days it was open 75 years ago, "When the first bridge (now carrying northbound traffic) was officially opened to traffic with a three day celebration centered on July 4th, 1932, traffic was grid locked around the bridge as an estimated 50,000 vehicles try to cross the structure in the first two days."
Merryman adds, "Few of us can fully comprehend what a true marvel of engineering the first structure must have appeared to be 75 years ago. The three day celebration mounted by both Henderson and Evansville was fully fitting the structure that has connected Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana economically and socially since."
The 75 th Anniversary of the opening of the first bridge linking Henderson and Evansville is generating a lot less hoopla than the Grand Opening in 1932.
To officially open the bridge to traffic, Governor Ruby Lafoon of Kentucky and Governor Harry G. Leslie of Indiana walked from each end of the span to meet in the middle to shake hands.
A boat flotilla gathered from up and down the Ohio River took nearly 40 minutes to pass beneath the bridge. About two dozen army planes put on an air show with maneuvers above Dade Park (now Ellis Park) Race Track.
A parade that stretched nearly two miles long celebrating the history of transportation lasted nearly two hours.
Military cannons were fired from the riverbanks joining with the din of riverboat whistles during the celebration.
Todd says the cost and magnitude of the bridge building program that included the first U.S. 41 Ohio River Bridge created quite a building boom across Kentucky.
"The first of the U.S. 41 Twin bridges was built for $2.4 million. It was one of 11 new bridges built statewide at about the same time for just under $10 million. That building boom included the U.S. 60 Green River Bridge at Spottsville that had opened just a few months earlier, as well as other major bridges along the U.S. 60 Corridor. It was an amazing time of growth and economic expansion across Kentucky and it all came down to improving transportation."
- Bridge bonds issued to pay for the construction effort were paid off with tolls. Crossing between Henderson and Evansville required a 30 cent toll for passenger vehicles.
- It was five cents for pedestrians who strolled across a sidewalk on the bridge deck. There was a 15 cent per head toll for livestock on foot.
- In December 1966 a second bridge was opened to handle southbound traffic with the original bridge handling only northbound traffic as it does today.
- Recent traffic counts show approximately 40,000 vehicles crossing the U.S. 41 Twin Bridges in an average day.
- The U.S. 41 Twin Bridges, also known as the Bi-State Gold Star Vietnam War Memorial Bridges, carry approximately 40,000 vehicles a day across the Ohio River between Henderson, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana.
- Opening day the trip from Evansville to Henderson took about two hours. Traffic was packed solid, both ways.
- Army planes flying overhead scattered rose petals over the crowed gathered on the bridge for the dedication.
- It is estimated that 50,000 automobiles carrying some 200,000 persons crossed the bridge Sunday and Monday.
- Tolls on the original bridges were removed or "freed" on March 20, 1941, making travel between the two cities more economical and encouraging new commerce.
- The second of the U.S. 41 Twin Bridges was opened to traffic on December 16, 1966 at a cost of $5 million, further enhancing this historic connection between Henderson and Evansville.