The name Meridian was selected because the bridge is located near the 6th meridian line of 100 degrees west longitude. At the time, it was hoped that an international highway would be built along the 6th meridian from Mexico City to Winnipeg, running through Yankton. Some references state that the bridge was the last link in the Pan American Highway. As it stands, there is no official route for the Pan American Highway in the US or Canada. There are many unofficial routes, with the routes through Denver and through Minneapolis being the most popular. The Pan American Highway Association suggests a route from Wichita, Kansas, heading north on US-81 through Yankton, and to Watertown, South Dakota. At Watertown, the route would pick up Interstate I-29 to Canada.
The bridge is a two-level lift bridge. This is a rather rare configuration. When built, the lower level had railroad tracks, and the upper level was for vehicle and wagon traffic. It was hoped that a railroad could be attracted from the south by having the bridge already in place. The railroad never materialized, so when the bridge was refurbished in 1953, it was converted to two one-way paths. The bottom level was one-way heading south into Nebraska, while the upper level was one-way heading north into Yankton.
The bridge is 3,029 feet overall. That is from the start of the ramp that goes to the upper level to where the ramp ends on the other end. The metal structure is 1,668 feet long, including the 250 foot lift span. Different sources report different lengths depending on where they measure from. The tolls were removed in 1953, and the lift mechanism was removed in 1983.
The first vehicle to officially cross the bridge was driven by Mrs. D. B. Gurney and her husband, along with a few other local residents, on October 5, 1924. After they crossed, they learned that their son, Chandler Gurney, had crashed his car through the temporary barricade in order to claim the honor of crossing the bridge before his parents. At 12:01 AM on December 1, 1953, Mrs. D. B. Gurney crossed the bridge and paid the final toll of 50 cents.
While the bridge is not adequate for current traffic levels, it is in sound condition. It will always need some level of maintenance work. In fact, the bridge was closed for much of June, 2008, to allow crews to install some plate doublers to reinforce some rusted gusset plates. The plan is to use the bridge as part of a regional trail.
The next 7 photos below are shots taken during a bridge crossing traveling north. The northbound traffic uses the upper deck, and notice the jog in the lane to get lined up with the narrow roadway on the upper deck.