The public is invited to celebrate the dedication of the new Champ Clark Bridge during a ceremony next Saturday featuring glimpses of history and several guest speakers connected the project.
The original Champ Clark Bridge was constructed in 1928 and dedicated to James Beauchamp "Champ" Clark, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911 to 1919. The construction project for the new bridge reflected a strong partnership between the City of Louisiana, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Massman Construction, the designer and builder of the new bridge. A stage will be set up in the middle of the new bridge for the ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. Visitors will be allowed on the bridge starting at 5 p.m. Marisa Ellison, MoDOT communications manager, said that everyone involved throughout the planning and construction of the new bridge worked together to bring the project to fruition ahead of schedule.
"I know the people in the communities are very excited, and it's been a real great partnership to work with the many agencies and organizations over the last year for the project," she said. "Also, I can't stress enough how wonderful the entire region has been in putting together this ceremony."
Kelly Henderson, Louisiana's city administrator and director of public works, said that the high school provided folding chairs, parking and two school buses to shuttle visitors to the ceremony, and city officials will help with transportation, set up the seating area and provide services like traffic control and manning the traffic areas.
"The community has been really great," he said.
Ellison expressed her excitement that Champ Clark's great-grandson, Ben Clark, will be the featured speaker for the event, and he will be accompanied by his sister, Martha, will also be at the event. Clark's great-grandchildren will be joined by MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna; Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman; Henry J. Massman, president of Massman Construction Company, the design-builder of the new bridge; and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri's 6th Congressional District — which encompasses part of the territory Clark represented.
Pike County, Mo. resident Pam Ince will sing the national anthem, and the American Legion Post 370 in Louisiana will post the colors. A "blessing" of the new bridge will be led by Pastor John Kroeze, followed by a moment of silence for those who lost their lives on the old bridge. Pike County residents who are more than 90 years of age will have a reserved space to sit during the ceremony. Visitors can watch a video featuring three Pike County residents, recounting the history of the old bridge and detailing the construction of the new bridge.
The stage will be flanked by classic cars from the era when the old bridge was dedicated. Wayne and Georgia Gamm, and their son, Larry, will display a 1930 Model A Ford and a 1923 Case car. Shortly after the ceremony, the bridge is scheduled to open to U.S. 54 traffic. The old bridge will be demolished after work is completed to connect the marina to a new section of U.S. 54 leading to the new bridge.
"We really are encouraging people to take a lot of pictures, because soon after the new bridge opens — within the next few months — that old bridge is going to come down," Ellison said. "It will certainly change the landscape of the river between Missouri and Illinois."
Henderson shared his excitement about sharing the milestone of the new bridge with area residents and visitors from both sides of the river.
"I think it will be a great event for the people who come," he said.
Some information in this story was provided by Edward Husar.