LOUISIANA, Mo. -- It has begun. With the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Champ Clark Bridge taking place on Friday, Sept. 8, the long awaited project is officially underway. The Louisiana riverfront was crowded with representatives from MoDOT, IDOT, Massman Construction, the city and local citizens to celebrate an infrastructure improvement that benefits both states.
The ceremony had guest speakers Patrick McKenna (MoDOT director), Randall Blankenhorn (Illinois secretary of transportation), Bart Niedner (Louisiana mayor), Andy Borrowman (Pike County Illinois chairman of the board) and J. Bennett Clark (great-grandson of James Beauchamp Clark).
“Missouri was faced with two options; we either close the bridge or we replace it,” Mayor Bart Niedner said. “Area residents were of a clear mind. The economic price is too high to let this bridge be closed. The human cost is too dear to allow this bridge to be closed.This new bridge will be a source of pride for the people of Louisiana and surrounding communities, just like your annual Colorfest and the many historic Victorian homes along Georgia Street. Motorists will see improved travel times. The new bridge will be wider than its predecessor and the Illinois approach will be elevated to help eliminate closures from flooding. Businesses will benefit from the better transportation network. Today we turn a vision into reality.”
Niedner spoke on how important the structural unity between Missouri and Illinois is for Louisiana.
“It certainly is an economic impact with companies like Stark Bro’s shipping a million trees a year across or Trailerman shipping 80 percent of its product across. Roughly 18 percent of our workforce [commutes] across the bridge. The local economic impact is a driver for nearly every business in the Louisiana area,” he said.
The partnership between people on both sides of the Mississippi banks was the linchpin for Champ Clark Bridge II.
“This is a big moment for our parts of the states,” Blankenhorn said. “Bridges connect communities and I think this symbolizes exactly what we at IDOT think transportation is about. It’s about how we make communities stronger [and] it’s about how we improve economies.”
During his speech, Borrowman recalled his first assignment for IDOT was a snow route for highway maintenance across the bridge, driving an eleven foot snow plow. “It wasn’t always easy to stop at the end of the bridge and maybe turn around because of traffic. Sometimes you had to cross the bridge,” he said. “There were many times I would stop, pull over against the side of the bridge and let oncoming traffic by me in order to [avoid] an accident.”
Clark opened his speech with an old quote that best summed up the ceremony. “We as a society build plenty of walls; there are never enough bridges. That seems to be true to me today in a couple of senses – both in the physical and in the symbolic,” he said. “There’s a physical need for a new bridge. I haven’t seen any Model A Fords cruising down the street of Louisiana recently, which is what this bridge was built to accommodate; not eighteen-wheelers. But perhaps, in a larger sense, there’s a symbolic aspect of this.”
Clark spoke on how his ancestor changed the history of the speaker of the house position by limiting the position’s power, the bipartisan efforts he put forth with Illinois representatives, and the respect Clark earned from his peers.
During his speech, an eagle made a guest appearance and briefly stole the show. “I feel like it’s almost a sense of closure of a circle [with] my uncle cutting the ribbon on the old bridge and me being able to participate here today and close the circle,” Clark said. Clark’s uncle Champ was at the first ribbon-cutting ceremony.
At the end of the ceremony, attendees were given commemorative buckets to fill with a scoop of dirt from both Illinois and Missouri.
“We need no longer worry that our heritage may be lost as the small towns relying on this bridge slowly die and disappear,” Niedner said. “In fact, we are celebrating a guarantee that we will have the opportunity to do the hard work which has always been our task if we are to be prosperous and happy. This bridge does not guarantee our success, but we are not a people who look for such an assurance. We are a people who are willing to work hard and take pride in our individual and collective industry. This new bridge ensures our pursuit of success.”