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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Illinois River Highway Crossing
La Salle, IL

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 000050019120847
• Location: River Mile 225.8
• River Elevation: 440 Feet
• Highways: I-39, US-51
• Daily Traffic Count: 19,700 (2005)
• Bridge Type: Steel Arch Suspended Deck
• Bridge Length: 7,122 Feet, 620 Foot Longest Span
• Bridge Width: 82 Feet, 4 Lanes
• Navigation Channel Width: 582 Feet
• Height Above Water: 66 Feet
• Date Built: 1987
The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge is a large bridge. It is not world class large, but nevertheless, it is still a very big bridge. Stretching more than a mile, it crosses two different railroad lines, the Illinois & Michigan Canal, the Illinois River, and highway IL-351. It is fitting that such a major bridge be named after Abraham Lincoln. As an attorney, he argued for and won the rights of railroads to put bridges over navigable waterways, and as President, he championed the idea of public-private partnerships to build critical infrastructure.

I-39 was developed as a connector route between the tollways in northern Illinois and the network of Interstate highways in central Illinois. The state started building I-39 in two pieces, first working from Rockford and heading south, and then from Bloomington and heading north. At that time, the Illinois River Bridge was not approved or funded, so it would be a gap in the highway. Washington politics came into play, and the bridge was finally approved as a demonstration project, despite the fact that the proposed bridge did not use any new technology that needed to be demonstrated. I-39 was built in the late 1980s and was completed in Illinois by 1993. It was extended north into central Wisconsin on existing freeways. The interchanges around Rockford were rebuilt during the mid-2000s. Today, the route is used as an outer bypass of the Chicago area, especially by long-haul truckers.

The Lincoln bridge is a conventional tied-arch design. It uses a large steel arch with suspension cables to support the roadway over the main span, which is 620 feet in this case. The arch is flanked by over a mile of steel girder bridge that is elevated about 60 feet above the river valley. The approaches are built as two independent bridge spans, but they join into one bridge span to cross the main river channel.

At the time the bridge was built, the contractors requested and were granted permission to take a short-cut by not removing the wood that was used as concrete forms when installing the concrete deck. This decision turned out to dramatically shorten the life of the structure. The wood held water, and caused key steel connections to rust, and it caused the concrete to rot. By the mid-2000s, the only choice was to strip the bridge down to it girders and rebuild the traffic decks. The net result is a $30-million repair bill for a bridge that is less than 20 years old.

The top photo was taken from the location of the old townsite of Shippingsport. The Abraham Lincoln bridge is the large green arch in the background. The old Illinois Central Railroad bridge is in the middle, and the new IL-351 bridge is in the foreground.

The next 6 photos show a typical bridge crossing heading north to south. Due to the construction, the southbound lanes are set up for two-way traffic, and southbound traffic is confined to a single narrow lane on the far right side of the bridge.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
The 6 photos above show a typical crossing of the Abraham Lincoln bridge from the north heading south. Due to the construction, all traffic is sharing the southbound lanes.

The photo below is looking north from the south end of the bridge. This gives a good overview of the size of this bridge. We can see 2500 feet to the north, and the main channel is still a 1000 feet beyond the trees. That makes for a big number of very tall bridge piers, 88 in all according to IL-DOT.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
These two photos give a close-up view of the construction on the approach spans. They are being stripped down to the steel girders and being totally rebuilt. The photo below shows the extent of the damage to the concrete on typical piers. The pier on the left has patches on the column, while both piers need large patches just under the girders.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
The photo above is a view of the south abutment of the bridge.

The remaining 6 photos show a typical crossing of the bridge from the south heading northbound. Again, due to the construction, the northbound traffic is using the inside lane of the southbound span. Note in the photos that show the arch structure that the left side of the arch has been repainted, while the paint on the right side is faded in comparison.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge

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