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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
I-680 Missouri River Highway Crossing
Omaha, NE

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge

Westbound Span
• Structure ID: NBI S680 01343L (NE), 603305 (IA)
• Length: 1,711 Feet, 420 Foot Longest Span
• Width: 40 Feet, 2 Traffic Lanes
• Date Built: 1975
 
Westbound Span
• Structure ID: NBI S680 01343R (NE), 603300 (IA)
• Length: 1,603 Feet, 420 Foot Longest Span
• Width: 26 Feet, 2 Traffic Lanes
• Date Built: 1952
 
Statistic Common To Both Spans
• Location: River Mile 626.5
• River Elevation: 971 Feet
• Highway: I-680
• Daily Traffic Count: 15,400 (2009)
• Bridge Type: Steel Continuous Through Truss
• Navigation Channel Width: 400 Feet
• Height Above Water: 60 Feet
The history of this bridge site dates back to a ferry operated by the Mormons in 1846. The site was later picked as a possible river crossing for the transcontinental railroad due to the riverbed being rock at this location, which was thought to be an excellent foundation for a bridge. Local citizens attempted to get a bridge project going in 1936, but were not successful. A highway ferry operated up to 1952, when the first span of the Mormon Pioneer Trail Bridge was opened. The bridge operated as a toll bridge up to April 21, 1979, when the newer eastbound bridge span was added. At that time, the two bridges became part of Interstate highway I-680, which bypasses Omaha on the north and west.

The I-680 bridges are named after the Mormon Pioneer Trail, a 1,300 mile route traveled by members of the Latter Day Saints as they migrated west from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City between 1846 and 1869. The initial wave of migration left Nauvoo in 1846, planning to arrive in Salt Lake City by the end of summer. However, they got a late start, and found that they were not as well prepared as they should be. As a result, they decided to winter just north of the present day city of Omaha, just west of the site of the Mormon Bridge. The Saints established small settlements across the region, with the largest being called Winter Quarters. A ferry boat was operated at the site of the Mormon Bridge, with a large group of Saints crossing the Missouri River over the ice in February, 1846. The only original building still remaining from the Winter Quarters era is the Florence Mill, which is located just west of the west end of the Mormon Bridge on the south side of the Interstate highway I-680 right-of-way. The story of this epic journey is told at the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters, located in the Florence neighborhood about a mile from the bridge site.

The toll booth building still exists. After the tools were removed, the toll booth building was moved to 3010 Willit Street in Historic Florence, now a neighborhood of Omaha. The building was last used as a barber shop. It is located next to the Bank of Florence Museum.

Interstate highway I-680 was extensively damaged in the record flood of 2011. While the Mormon Bridge was not under water, the section of I-680 from just east of the bridge to near the interchange with I-29 spent months underwater. The current undercut the roadway carrying away much of the roadbed. The concrete pavement became a jumble of blocks that were littered with driftwood and tree debris. The road was closed on June 10, 2011. When the damage became apparent, it was estimated that it would take a year to fix the highway. Contracts were let for the work on September 23, with work starting on September 28. The highway reopened on November 2, 2011, just 34 days later, due to an accelerated work schedule.

The photo above is looking east along the downstream face of the older eastbound span of the Mormon Bridge. The photo below is looking upstream to the north towards the main bridge spans from the bicycle trail that runs along the west bank of the Missouri River through Omaha.


Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is the west bridge abutment, with the older eastbound span in the foreground. The photo below is the steel girder span crossing over John J. Pershing Drive. The vantage point is standing on the south side of Dick Collins Road.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking north towards the bridge spans crossing over John J. Persching Drive, the road that runs along the riverfront in North Omaha. The photo below is the west end of the large truss spans at the west end of the Mormon Bridge.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking east across the Missouri River along the downstream south face of the eastbound 1952 structure. This photo was a little difficult to take given that there is a tall fence blocking access to the river given that the property to the north is owned by the US Coast Guard, and the property to the south is part of the metro water plant. I had to hold the camera up over my head and shoot blindly. The photo below is a view of the east end of the bridge structures on the Iowa side of the Missouri River as seen from the bicycle trail as it runs past the water plant.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos are views of the bridge at the mid-river piers, again, seen looking northeast from the bicycle trail as it passes the water plant. The photo above is a closer view of the truss above the mid-river piers, while the photo below is a view of the piers. Note that the fence again is getting in the way of our view.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking east across the Missouri River between the two bridge structures. The older eastbound 1952 span is to the right, while the newer westbound 1975 span is on the left. The photo below is looking east across the river along the upstream face of the newer westbound bridge span. This area flooded in the historic flood of 2011, which as left a deep layer of silt in the riverflats.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is the north face of the bridge abutment, with the newer bridge span in the foreground. The photo below is the west end of the truss spans, again, with the newer bridge span in the foreground. Note the bicycle path running under the truss span. Thankfully, the railing is low under the bridge, but we see the taller fence that starts just on the other side of the older span.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos are looking southeast towards the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge from the bicycle path that runs along John J. Pershing Drive in North Omaha. The photo above is the bridge structure at the western of the two sets of main bridge piers. These piers sit right at the edge of the river, whereas the eastern main span bridge piers are near the middle of the Missouri River. The photo below shows the eastern half of the truss spans with the eastern main bridge piers situated in the river.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos are closer views of the eastern end of the Mormon Bridge spans. The photo above is centered on the eastern of the two main bridge piers. The photo below is the easternmost truss span on the Iowa side of the river. Note that the steel bridge girders on the approach spans differ, with the girders being smooth on the newer structure, but ribbed on the older structure in the background.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is a closer view of the bridge structure above the eastern of the two sets of main bridge piers. While it is somewhat difficult to see in this view, note that one of the vertical beams on the right side of the photo is pin connected rather than being bolted to a gusset plate. This allows the bridge to flex during heat and cool cycles. As the bridge expands and contracts, it actually tips slightly. The photo below is the truss spans over the river navigation channel.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos are the underside of the two bridge spans. The photo above is the older 1952 structure, while the photo below is the newer 1975 structure. The newer structure is wider and has a fifth set of longitudinal stringers. What is not quite as obvious in these photos is that the older bridge is riveted, while the newer bridge is bolted.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is the northwest corner of the newer truss structure where the bridge is connected to a pier via a large bearing. Note the ladder leading down from the bridge deck, and a catwalk on the far side of the bridge pier. This gusset plate appears to have been recently repaired given that the paint does not match the rest of the bridge. The photo below are additional gusset plates on the 1975 span. These also appear to have been repaired, but despite the repairs, there is already extensive surface rust showing.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking towards the bridge abutment under the steel girder approach span of the newer 1975 structure. The photo below is a close view of the southwest corner of the 1975 structure. There is significant rust and deterioration. It appears that the rebar in the bridge deck is rusting, which is causing the concrete to break away. The catwalk also has extensive rust. I noticed water dripping from this area despite it being a clear warm day. I suspect that there is a drainage issue on the bridge, with the water being concentrated at this location. This is a sad amount of damage for a bridge that is less than 30 years old.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above is a marker for the Mormon Pioneer Trail located just west of the I-680 river crossing in a small square across the street from the Florence Mill. The mill is the only remaining structure from the Mormon Winter Quarters that was established nearby in the late 1840s. The photo below is a marker for the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge which relates some local history.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos, and the five that follow, show a typical eastbound river crossing using the older 1952 span. In the photo above, we start the crossing entering I-680 eastbound from North 30th Avenue in the Florence neighborhood of Omaha. In the photo below, we are merging onto I-680. The merge lane is not very long given how close it is to the narrower downstream bridge structure.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos continue our eastbound river crossing. We are crossing the steel girder approach spans in the photo above, while we are in the through truss structure just over the west bank of the Missouri River in the photo below. Note that there are on shoulders on this bridge span.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos continue our eastbound river crossing. We are passing over the eastern of the two sets of main bridge piers in the photo above, and are going downhill on the approach spans on the Iowa side of the river. The Iowa welcome sign is just to the right of the end of the bridge.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
The photo above completes our eastbound river crossing. In this view, we are traveling over the river flats on I-680 in Iowa. This section of pavement is only 7 months old. The monumental flood of 2011 put this area under water. The river current removed the gravel from under the concrete and destroyed the road. Several miles of highway were quickly rebuilt in the fall of 2011, with this photo being taken in early June of 2012.

The photo below, and the six that follow, show a typical westbound crossing of the newer 1975 span of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge traveling from Iowa into Omaha, Nebraska. In this photo, we are traveling westbound about 1/5 of a mile from the bridges.


Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos continue our westbound river crossing. In the photo above we are rounding a small bend leading to the east bridge abutment. Note that we have a head-on view of the older 1952 eastbound span at this vantage point. The photo below is entering the approach spans on the east side of the Missouri River.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos continue our westbound river crossing. The photo above is climbing the small hill on the approach spans to reach the main truss structure. Note the Nebraska welcome sign, which is attached to the east portal of the truss structure. The actual state line is in the center of the Missouri River, located just past the vantage point of the photo below, which is taken just over the eastern of the two sets of main bridge piers.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge
These two photos complete our westbound river crossing. The photo above is passing through the western section of the main bridge truss, while the photo below is descending the approach spans on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. The first Nebraska exit, exit #13, is for North 30th Street, which is the exit that will take you to the Mormon Trail Center, which is well worth visiting and is a great introduction to the history of the Omaha area.

Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
For further information, contact: john@johnweeks.com