VICKSBURG, Miss. (WJTV) – A part of Mississippi transportation history turns 90 years old this month. And after it was completed, people could really go on a road trip.
In April of 1930, the first automobiles crossed the Highway 80 bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. And then a couple of weeks later in May, the first trains began using the bridge. At the time, this was the only bridge south of Memphis crossing the Mississippi.
So for ten years if you wanted to drive to Louisiana from Mississippi, Vicksburg was the only place you could do so. But Louisiana was just the beginning. This bridge opened the lower South to the rest of the nation.
“This was the first complete Southern route across the U.S. via Highway 80. From east coast to west coast,” said Herman Smith.
Smith is the superintendent of the Vicksburg Bridge Commission of Warren County. He oversees operation of the bridge. And yes, there are things to oversee. Well, the train traffic for one thing. And there is upkeep on the bridge itself. It is still usable, if it needed to be. A little cramped, maybe. The lanes are only nine feet wide. But when it was built in 1930, cars weren’t all that big. And 18-wheelers were still a long way the future.
The bridge closed in 1998. Drivers use the more modern Interstate 20 Bridge, now. But, the Highway 80 bridge and the I-20 Bridge share an odd thing in common. They are both slowly drifting westward.
“There is a fault line that runs underneath our east approach. As it shifts, all the piers on our bridge have moved to the west. Pier two, which is the one right in our immediate background, it has moved about 30 to 32 inches to the west since it was originally built in 1929,” explained Smith.
This is the perfect job for Herman Smith.
“I love tow boats, so they go under. And I love trains, and they go over. And I love the history of the bridge. I get to make sure that bridge lives on further.”
Just like Old Man River keeps rolling under it, the Old Bridge at Vicksburg keeps standing over it, still ready for use if we need it. And probably will be for another 90 years.