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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
DeSoto Bridge
Former MN-23 Mississippi River Highway Crossing
Saint Cloud, MN

DeSoto Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 6748
• Location: River Mile 927.4
• River Elevation: 981 Feet
• Counties: Benton, Stearns
• Highway: MN Highway 23
• Daily Traffic Count: 31,000 (2004), Closed As Of March 20, 2008
• Bridge Type: Steel Deck Truss
• Bridge Length: 890 Feet, 280 Foot Longest Span
• Bridge Width: 54 Feet, 4 Lanes
• Height Above Water: 32 Feet (To Low Steel)
• Date Opened: Dedicated September 16, 1959, Demolished October 2008
It is not known who the first European was to see the Mississippi River. It is known that Hernando de Soto was the first European to take credit for seeing the Mississippi River on May 8, 1541. After milling around the river for about a year, de Soto caught a fever and died. He was buried in the river on May 21, 1542. The DeSoto Bridge in Saint Cloud is the northern of two bridges over the Mississippi River to commemorate the de Soto discovery.

The early Spanish explorers did not treat the local indigenous Indians very well, de Soto included. Students from nearby Saint Cloud State University held a protest rally in the spring of 2005 demanding that the name of the bridge be changed out of respect for the Indians. 50 students attended the event.

The DeSoto bridge is the first river crossing at this location. It was built in the late 1950s as part of a new MN-23 highway alignment that acted as a bypass around downtown Saint Cloud. The new MN-23 followed Division street for several miles, so the new bridge is often called the Division Street Bridge. Ironically, MN-23 diverges from Division street more than a mile before the river, where it follows 1st St S, then 2nd St S up to the river, and 3rd St SE north of the river.

The bridge itself is a steel deck truss. This is much like the big metal monster bridges on the lower Mississippi, except shorter, and turned upside-down so the metal structure is under the roadway. The main span looks like an arch, but the bridge does not gain strength from the arch. Rather, the strength is from the truss lattice work. The bridge project was started in 1957, and finished in October of 1958. It was officially dedicated September 16, 1959.

The deck truss bridge design is considered to be obsolete today. The key issue is that it is non-redundant. That is, there are key parts of the bridge that if they fail, the whole bridge can fail. This was dramatically demonstrated in August, 2007, when I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. That bridge was very similar to this bridge, but longer, wider, and newer. There was another similar deck truss bridge just up stream, the Old Sauk Rapids Bridge. That bridge was replaced and was demolished in 2008.

The DeSoto Bridge is an impressive structure. Its seems to fill an important visual niche just where it sits. The black paint, unusual for a highway bridge, competes the illusion of being a fortress like structure left over from the middle ages. The City of St Cloud has built a very nice park on the west end of the bridge. In fact, the city is gradually building parks and trails along the river to try to rejoin the city to the great river. This park is very well done, kudos to the city for both the vision and the execution of the plan for this park.

This bridge is of the same design as the I-35W bridge that collapsed, and it was built by the same contractors. As a result, the Minnesota Department of Transportation performed a detailed inspection of the bridge following the I-35W bridge disaster. Several gusset plates were found to be deformed and the main arch was bowed slightly, appearing to inspectors that the bridge would fail if steps were not taken to fix the bridge structure. MN-DOT ordered the DeSoto bridge to be closed until further notice on March 20, 2008 due to the bridge being unsafe.

MN-DOT later announced that the MN-23 bridge problem is fatal. The bridge had been scheduled for replacement in 2014, but these events moved that date up by 5 years. The DeSoto Bridge was removed during September and October of 2008. The project started with the removal of the concrete deck. Next, the metal parts were slowly cut away with torches and lowered to barges using a pair of track cranes sitting on barges. The last pieces of the bridge to be demolished, the two piers, were completed on October 16, 2008.

This page includes two sets of photos. The photos with the grey skies were were taken 2 years before the bridge was closed. The photos with the blue skies were taken shortly after the bridge was closed. The destruction of the DeSoto Bridge was a huge loss. It was the last deck truss bridge remaining over the main channel of the Mississippi River, and it is a bridge style that is unlikely to ever be built again in the future. This was a last chance to get up close and personal with such a magnificent structure.

The photo above is the downriver face of the bridge as seen from the small memorial park on the west end of the structure. The photo below is the marker on display in that park.


DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
The photo above is a view from the small bridge memorial located on the downriver side of the west end of the structure. This is the most interesting view of one of the most interesting bridges to cross the great river. The photo below is a view of the north face of the structure from the trail that runs behind the Civic Center located just upstream of the bridge.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
These two photos are views of the DeSoto Bridge as seen from the Veterans Bridge located just upstream. The photo above is an profile view of the structure, while the photo below is a close view of the main river span.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
These two photos are views of the bridge deck as seen from sidewalk level. The photo above is looking to the east towards US-10 while the bridge was still in operation. The photo below is looking west towards downtown shortly after the bridge was closed.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
The photo above is a view looking west down the centerline of the bridge deck. The bridge is empty since being closed to traffic. Attempting this photo while the bridge was still in operation would likely have resulting in being run down given the high volume of traffic. The photo below is the side span that crossed Riverside Drive on the east side of the Mississippi.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
MN-DOT needed to learn more about the rock under the riverbed as part of the design process for the new bridge. In these two photos, a drill rig is set up on a barge and is drilling sample holes under the path of the existing bridge. The photo above is a profile view of the south side of the bridge, while the photo below is a more shallow angle of the scene.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
These two photos are two more views of the drilling process to determine the types of materials and the depth of the bedrock as part of the design process for the new bridge.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
These two photos are views of one of the problem areas on the bridge. The photo above is a view of the steel truss on the south face of the structure. The photo below is a close view of a key gusset plate where 5 beams are joined. The gusset plate is slightly wavy on top, indicating that it is deforming under the weight of the structure.

DeSoto Bridge
DeSoto Bridge
These two photos are bridge plates from the DeSoto Bridge. The photo above is the MN-DOT bridge plate, while the photo below is a plate noting that the bridge was paid for, in part, through a federal aid project.

DeSoto Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2014, all rights reserved.
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