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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
US-2 Saint Louis River Highway Crossing
Duluth, MN

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 69100
• Location: River Mile 8.1
• River Elevation: 602 Feet
• Highway: US-2
• Daily Traffic Count: 19,400 (2004)
• Bridge Type: Steel Arch Suspended Deck
• Bridge Length: 8,320 Feet, 500 Foot Longest Span
• Bridge Width: 70 Feet, 4 Lanes
• Navigation Channel Width: 400 Feet
• Height Above Water: 120 Feet
• Date Built: 1982
The Richard I. Bong Bridge is the longest bridge with at least one end touching the State of Minnesota. In Wisconsin, the Daniel Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee is longer, which makes the Bong Bridge be the second longest bridge with at least one end landing in Wisconsin.

The Bong Bridge was built to replace the US-2 Arrowhead Bridge. That bridge was obsolete. In addition, it was often backed up due to the draw spans being open. The two states were also looking for a way to move cargo from the railroad areas without trucks having to go through the downtown areas. Finally, shipping interests were looking for a clear path from Lake Superior to the docks in the far western area of the Saint Louis Bay.

Construction on the Bong Bridge began in 1982, and the structure opened on October 25, 1985. The bridge is mostly a steel girder bridge with a concrete deck. The main span is a large steel tied arch. The bridge features 8,320 feet of structure over water. With approaches, the total elevated span is approximately 11,800 feet.

In the end, the Bong Bridge project was not as successful as was hoped. Both rail and trucking traffic leveled off and dropped in the 1980s, so the bridge traffic did not develop as expected. Industry in the Duluth and Superior area evaporated as heavy industry converted to service work and the lakefront converted to tourism. The road system on the Superior side was never fully developed, so the bridge did not serve as a bypass. Finally, the major docks on the west side of the bridge are nearly all shut down as the steel mill, rolling plants, and foundries in the Gary New Duluth area closed.

The Bong Bridge is named after WWII hero Richard Ira Bong. Bong lived in nearby Poplar, Wisconsin. He flew the P-38 Lightning fighter plane in the Pacific Theater. He was allowed to retire from combat flying when he broke the record of 26 kills. He later found his way back in combat, and was again pulled from the combat theater after his 40th kill. The military was afraid that Bong was becoming a target, and they didn't want to risk losing their Ace of Aces. Bong relocated to southern California to begin training on jet aircraft. Bong died on August 6, 1945, when his P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter crashed. Some people find it ironic that while Bong fought against the Japanese, and there was a major steel mill located within sight distance of the Bong Bridge, the steel for the arch span of Bong's namesake bridge was imported from Japan.

The State of Minnesota lists the Bong Bridge as a single entry in the National Bridge Inventory database. Wisconsin, however, lists the bridge as 19 separate sections as follows:

NBI ID NumberLocationLength
B160038000100001.1 Miles West Of State Line285 Feet
B160038000200001.1 Miles West Of State Line144 Feet
B160038000300001.0 Miles West Of State Line504 Feet
B160038000400000.9 Miles West Of State Line549 Feet
B160038000500000.8 Miles West Of State Line402 Feet
B160038000600000.7 Miles West Of State Line609 Feet
B160038000700000.6 Miles West Of State Line609 Feet
B160038000800000.5 Miles West Of State Line427 Feet
B160038000900000.4 Miles West Of State Line421 Feet
B160038001000000.3 Miles West Of State Line412 Feet
B160038001100000.2 Miles West Of State Line412 Feet
B160038001200000.0 Miles West Of State Line453 Feet
B160038001300000.0 Miles West Of State Line500 Feet
B160038001400000.1 Miles East Of State Line570 Feet
B160038001500000.2 Miles East Of State Line572 Feet
B160038001600000.3 Miles East Of State Line380 Feet
B160038001700000.4 Miles East Of State Line380 Feet
B160038001800000.5 Miles East Of State Line380 Feet
B160038001900000.6 Miles East Of State Line310 Feet

If you add up these distances, they add up to 8,319, within a foot of the length that Minnesota lists in their NBI entry for the Bong Bridge.

The Bong Bridge was the seen of a cat rescue on April 2, 2011. A MN-DOT crew was on the bridge cleaning trash and debris off of the structure following the last of the winter snow melt. Just after noon, a MN-DOT worker was on the main bridge span, where he heard the muted cries from a house cat. After a short search, they found a cat sitting on top of a pier cap some twenty feet below the highway deck. The MN-DOT worker flagged down a city of Superior police car, and the rescue began. The first attempt was to lower a nylon strap down to the cat. The cat, however, did not grab onto the strap, so this attempt failed. The police office had a bag that was used to carry rescue gear. They rigged the bag to the nylon strap, baited it with part of the MN-DOT worker's lunch, and lowered it down to the pier. The cat took the bait and climbed into the bag. The two men then hoisted the bag containing the cat up to the sidewalk. The cat had obviously been stuck for a while, perhaps several days, and was far more interested in food than anything else. The cat was turned over to an animal control officer, and later went up for adoption. It remains a mystery how the cat got stuck under the bridge. While it is possible that the cat walked to the center of the bridge and then jumped down 20 feet to the pier, it seem more likely that someone tried to kill the cat by tossing it over the side of the bridge, and the cat landed on the pier.

The photo above was taken from a highway overpass behind the Lake Superior Papermill in Duluth. The view is looking southeast. The photo below is a view from the same location on a chilly autumn afternoon. The railroad tracks passing under this overpass connect to the west end of the Grassy Point Bridge, a BNSF swing bridge that runs parallel to and just south of the Bong Bridge.


Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking east towards the main span of the Bong Bridge from the east end of Raleigh Street in West Duluth were Raleigh Street turns into Lesure Street. The photo below was taken from Thomson's Hill near the rest area where I-35 and US-2 meet. This view is essentially the same angle as the photo above, but shot from a higher elevation. The vantage point in the photo above was nine-tenths of a mile from the nearest corner of the arch span, while the the photo below is from three miles away.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos are late evening telephoto views looking southeast from the Thompson Hill rest area on I-35. Due to the rotation of the earth, the sun sets relatively far to the northwest. That allows the sunlight to illuminate the north side of the bridge piers. The low sun angle serves to light up the underside of the bridge, including the tops of the piers and the steel girders. The warm colors of the setting sun gives the bridge a completely different look.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos were taken from the old Arrowhead Bridge fishing deck in Superior. The view is looking northeast towards Duluth. The wider shot above shows the wide sweeping curves of the bridge, while the close up shot below shows the tied arch in more detail. The railroad bridge in the photo is the BNSF Grassy Point Drawbridge.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos are the start of a crossing of the Bong Bridge heading north from Superior to Duluth. These photos show the entrance roadway to the south end of the bridge. The bridge was intended to flow into a freeway that bypassed Superior. That freeway never materialized, so these connector ramps between the Bong Bridge and Belknap Street have become permanent.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Once we arrive on the bridge proper, we curve to the left (in the photo above), and we curve back to the right before we reach the main channel (in the photo below).

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos show the tied arch over the main channel. The arch structure looks enormous as you approach it (in the photo above), but it isn't until you are inside that you can see just how massive it really is. The photo below also shows the suspension cables that are used to suspend the deck from the arch.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
After we exit the arch, we travel though a long sweeping curve to the right. In the photo above, we cross the state line shortly after entering this curve. The steam plant for the Lake Superior Papermill can be seen on the left of the roadway (but at the far right edge of the photo). In the photo below, this curve to the right continues as we reach the signs for the exit ramps at the north end of the bridge.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
There is one last small curve to the left at the north end of the Bong Bridge. The photo below shows our travel choices. The ramp to the right enters I-35 northbound towards downtown Duluth. The road going straight ahead takes us onto local streets in the West Duluth area of town. A grade level turn to the left just ahead will take us to I-35W heading south towards Thompson's Hill.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos, and the 14 that follow, are views captured when walking northbound across the Bong Bridge from Superior towards Duluth. The photo above is looking northwest towards the arch span from the bicycle path leading to the south end of the Bong Bridge. The photo above is the sidewalk at the south end of the bridge.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking northeast across the south end of the highway deck. The photo below is looking north across the bridge. The southbound lanes are nearest to the sidewalk, with the northbound lanes being behind the center divider.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is another view looking northwest towards the arch span of the Bong Bridge after walking far enough out on the sidewalk to get high enough to keep the trees out of the frame. The photo above is the first clear view of the arch after rounding the curve at the south end of the bridge, some two-tenths of a mile from the arch structure.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking west down the sidewalk on the south side of the Bong Bridge towards the main span arch structure. The vantage point is about one-tenth of a mile from the arch, the first location where you can see the far end of the highway deck as it passes through the arch. The photo below is a view from under the east end of the arch.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is looking north across the bridge deck towards the arch on the far side of the bridge. Note the gusset plate that connects two sections of the arch. I count two sets of seven rows of bolts with 18 bolts per row, for a total of 252 bolts. The photo above is looking up where a pair of suspension cables connects to the arch. Note the surface rust on this plate. I suspect that this is a trim plate and is not a structural component.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo below is where these two cables attach to the structure that holds up the roadway. Given that the low steel on the bridge is 120 feet above the water, and the steel on the lower arch tie member is at least 15 feet tall, the water is probably 140 feet below the sidewalk at this location. The photo above is looking east down the highway deck as we start our walk back to the south end of the bridge. The city of Superior is in the background.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is a view of the bridge as it curves towards the south bridge abutment. The bridge passes over the BNSF railroad tracks that lead to the Grassy Point Bridge, a railroad swing bridge that is parallel to and just south of the Bong Bridge. The large facility on the far side of the bridge is the Amsoil distribution center. Amsoil is a leading manufacture of synthetic oil, and is based in Superior. The building was built as a grocery distribution center. The photo below is looking northbound along the south side of the bridge from the south bridge abutment.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is the south bridge abutment. The photo below is a view looking under the south end of the bridge. Note the concrete steps that causes the bridge deck to slant to the south. The curves on the bridge are inclined to allow traffic to flow at highway speeds.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos are views traveling northbound on Interstate highway I-35. The photo above is passing the exit from northbound I-35 to southbound US-2. The photo below is passing under two more ramps that feed into southbound US-2. The lower level bridge connects from the Duluth street system, while the flyover ramp connects from southbound I-35 to southbound US-2. The construction project in progress is the I-35 Megaproject. This project is a rebuild of I-35 from Thompson Hill to the I-535 Can-Of-Worms interchange.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos, and the eight that follow, are views of a southbound crossing of the US-2 Bong Bridge from Duluth to Superior. This journey starts in the photo above heading south on N 46th Avenue W. This street flows onto the Bong Bridge, as seen in the photo below. The bridge above the roadway is the flyover ramp from southbound I-35 to southbound US-2, which will merge in from the right shortly. Interstate highway I-35 crosses under the Bong Bridge just beyond this overpass, putting us in the center of a three level stack interchange.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
These two photos continue our southbound crossing of the bong bridge. In the photo above, two ramps are merging in from the right. The nearest merger into our lane is traffic from northbound I-35. The ramp to the far right is the flyover from southbound I-35. The photo above is a section of straight roadway heading almost due south prior to the curve that leads to the main bridge span.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is rounding the curve leading to the main bridge span, while in the photo below, we are on the final climb up to the west end of the giant steel arch.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
In the photo above, we are passing through the large steel arch span over the navigation channel. The bridge deck is approximately 150 feet above the water at the center of the span. The top of the arch is approximately 75 feet above the highway deck. The photo below is heading east down the incline leading to the Wisconsin side of the Saint Louis Bay.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge
The photo above is exiting the south end of the Bong Bridge into the city of Superior. The photo below is a marker located in a park set between the northbound and southbound lanes at the south end of the bridge.

Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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