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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Oliver Bridge
MN-39, WI-105 Saint Louis River Highway/Rail Crossing
Oliver, WI

Oliver Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 6544 (MN), B16075500000000 (WI)
• Location: River Mile 15.3
• River Elevation: 602 Feet
• Highways: MN-39, WI-105
• Railroad: Canadian National Railroad (Former DM&IR)
• Daily Traffic Count (Auto): 1,900 (2004)
• Daily Traffic Count (Rail): 24 Trains Per Day (Estimated)
• Bridge Type: Steel Girder
• Bridge Length: 1,889 Feet, 150 Foot Longest Span
• Bridge Width: 23 Feet, 2 Lanes
• Navigation Channel Width: 140 Feet
• Height Above Water: 14 Feet
• Date Built: Built 1916, Reconstructed 1970
The Oliver Bridge is the lessor known of the three highway bridges between the Twin Ports cities of Duluth and Superior. It crosses from the Gary and New Duluth neighborhoods of Duluth to the small town of Oliver in Wisconsin. The Oliver Bridge is named after the town of Oliver, which is in turn named after the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Oliver, who developed a large iron mine on the Iron Range in Minnesota.

The Oliver Bridge was built as a swing span bridge. It had a long metal trestle, with a 300 foot long swing span located near the Wisconsin side of the bridge. A narrow two lane highway deck was constructed under the railroad deck. Since there were large concrete abutments on each end of the bridge, the highway deck had sharp 90 degree corners on each end of the bridge. For most of the life of the bridge, the highway deck was made out of timber and wooden boards, making the crossing very spooky. The rail deck once supported twin tracks, but a section of the eastbound track has been removed at each end of the bridge. This appears to have been done to allow more light to shine on the very dark corners of the highway deck. The bridge was closed in 2001 and 2002 to allow MN-DOT and Wi-DOT to work with DM&IR to replace the highway deck with a concrete floor and guardrails.

While the Oliver Bridge was built as a swing span, there is no evidence that it ever operated as a working swing bridge. The Duluth harbor was never extended past the Gary New Duluth steel mills and furnace complex. The river is not readily navigable beyond the bridge. The bridge was opened in the 1960s as part of a pipeline project. It reportedly took 3 days of work to get the bridge open. Since work was done on the bridge in 1970, it appears that it is no longer possible to open the swing span.

The bridge was owned for many years by the Duluth, Missabe, and Iron Range Railroad. The DM&IR sold out to the Canadian National on May 10, 2004, passing ownership of the Oliver Bridge to the CN. The rail line served by this bridge acts as a southwest bypass for trains around the Twin Ports area. A dozen different railroads have trackage rights over the bridge, resulting in very heavy traffic. The bridge currently hosts an average of 24 trains per day. Many of these trains are unit trains hauling coal in from the Power River Basin in Wyoming.

Update — a gentleman whose father worked at the Fond du Lac power station wrote to me stating that as a child, he rode on the Steamer Montauk several times. The Montauk regularly made the 19 mile trip from Duluth to Fond du Lac, operating from 1924 to 1939. Given that this was a relatively large boat at 180 feet long, the bridge would have had to open to let it pass. This would seem to answer the question that the bridge did indeed operate as a functional swing span for many years.

The photo above is a view of the swing span section at the east end of the Oliver Bridge as seen from the Wisconsin DNR public water access boat landing located just downstream on the east shore of the Saint Louis River.

Oliver Bridge
These two photos are the first of a six photo set showing a typical river crossing heading eastbound on the highway deck. The photo above is approaching the west end of the bridge. Due to the location of the bridge abutment, there is a tight turn required to enter the bridge deck. The photo below is a closer view of that turn. Note that the position of the steel supports for the upper deck forces this turn to be very sharp.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
These two photos continue our eastbound bridge crossing. In these two photos, we are traveling on the highway deck located under the railroad deck. The photo above gives an impression of just how long this bridge is. The photo below is the transition from the steel trestle section to the swing span, which has its vertical truss members located much closer together than the trestle section.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
These two photos are the final photos in this six photo series showing a typical eastbound bridge crossing. The photo above is the east bridge abutment. Note that a section of bridge for the south rail line has been removed at this end, too. The photo below is the curve exiting the east end of the Oliver Bridge.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
With dozens of trails per day using the Oliver Bridge, one does not have to wait long to see a train crossing the bridge. Here, we see a Canadian National train approaching from the east. Locomotive #8021 is a 4,300 horsepower EMD SD70M-2. The CN bought 140 of these locomotives, with this unit being built in December, 2005.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
The photo above is looking west along the railroad tracks towards the rail deck of the Oliver Bridge. The photo below is looking east from the access road to the power lines located northwest of the bridge. This was the only view of the side of the bridge that I was aware of until the found the Wisconsin DNR public water access site on the east side of the river.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
These two photos are views of the Oliver Bridge looking north from the public water access site on the Wisconsin side of the river. The photo above is the steel trestle spans on the west side of the main river channel. The photo below is the east end of the bridge including the swing span.

Oliver Bridge
Oliver Bridge
These two photos are details views of the bridge structure looking north from the public water access site on the Wisconsin side of the river. The photo above is the center pivot of the swing span. The photo below is the west end of the swing span where it meets the trestle spans.

Oliver Bridge

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