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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Harahan Bridge
Mississippi River Railroad Crossing At Memphis
Memphis, TN

Harahan Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 734.7.
• River Elevation: 187 Feet.
• Railroad: Union Pacific.
• Daily Traffic Count: 20 Trains Per Day (Estimated).
• Bridge Type: Continuous Steel Truss Through Deck.
• Length: 4,973 Feet Overall, 791 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 2 Rail Tracks Plus 14 Foot Traffic Lanes.
• Navigation Channel Width: 770 Foot Clear Channel.
• Height Above Water: 108 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened July 1916.
The Harahan Bridge was built between 1914 and 1916. It opened with two tracks of rail traffic in July of 1916, and two lanes of automobile traffic early in 1917. The principal owners are three railroads, the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific, the Missouri Pacific, and the Saint Louis Southwestern, who partnered to form the Arkansas and Memphis Railway Bridge and Terminal Company.

The main structure is 2,548 feet 10-11/32 inches long. Of that, 2,201 feet is a through truss design with the truss work above the bridge deck, while 347 feet has the truss work under the deck. Starting from the Memphis side, the spans are 186 feet 3-19/32 inches long, 790 feet 5-1/4 inches, 621 feet, 604 feet 1-1/2 inches, and 347 feet. The remaining 2,424 feet on the west end of the river crossing is a steel tower trestle. These bridge spans match the lengths of the bridge spans on the older Frisco Bridge located just downstream. This was required by the US Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that the piers would line up and not further encroach on the navigation channels.

A 14 foot wide roadway was hung off of each side of the railroad bridge. This allowed highway traffic to use the Harahan Bridge from 1917 to 1949. The highway lanes were removed after the new US-40 bridge opened (later to become the I-55 bridge). Some of the concrete for these lanes still exists on the west end of the river crossing, along with the ramps that carried the traffic up to the bridge. A short section of pavement for the westbound lane still exists on the east end of the bridge.

This bridge was called the Rock Island Bridge when construction started. Before the bridge was finished, Rock Island Railroad president J.T. Harahan was killed in a automobile accident. His car was struck, by of all things, a train. As a result, the new bridge was renamed the Harahan Bridge.

On the afternoon of September 17, 1928, the eastbound highway lane, which consisted of wooden planks over a steel frame, caught fire near pier #1 (about 180 feet from the Memphis side). The eastbound lane was totally consumed in the fire along the entire length of the 790 foot span. The westbound lanes were burned an additional 180 feet to the west of pier #2, destroying the roadway on part of the 621 foot long span. The bridge was closed for several months. A total of 950 tons of new structural steel was installed, and a more fire resistant roadway was installed.

The Harahan may yet sport a new roadway sometime in the future. There is currently a proposal to extend the Mississippi River Trail across the Harahan Bridge by reinstalling a deck on one of the traffic lanes to serve as a pedestrian and bicycle crossing. This would make for some spectacular views of the great river.

The photo above is looking west from the riverbank on the Memphis side of the river from between the Harahan and Frisco railroad bridges. This is a rarely seen view of the Harahan Bridge given that it is difficult to access this location.

Harahan Bridge
The photo above is the southeast end of the Harahan Bridge as it lands on the riverbank on the Memphis side of the Mississippi River. The photo below is the exit ramp that once carried eastbound vehicular traffic off of the bridge and onto the Memphis street system. The cobblestone pavement was once covered with asphalt, but that surface has broken up and washed away exposing the original road pavement.

Harahan Bridge
Harahan Bridge
The photo above is looking southwest at the truss spans over the Mississippi River as seen from Martyr Park on the Tennessee side of the crossing. The photo below is a view of the long steel ramp that carried westbound automobile traffic down off of the bridge and onto dry land on the Arkansas side of the river.

Harahan Bridge
Harahan Bridge
The photo above is the highway ramp on the northeast side of the Harahan Bridge. While the railroad deck is long and level, the automobile deck travels up an incline to reach the main bridge truss spans. Note that the structure for the auto deck and the bridge railings are still in place, the deck has long since been removed. The photo below is a close view of the transition of the auto ramp from concrete to steel where the roadway splits to run along both sides of the railroad bridge.

Harahan Bridge
Harahan Bridge
The photo above is the roadway ramp on the northwest end of the Harahan Bridge. The Harahan Bridge is in the background. The ramp turns to the south, then passes under the Frisco Bridge in the foreground. The ramp splits into two lanes near the Harahan Bridge, with one lane connecting to each side of the bridge. This view is the southwest side of the structures. The photo below is the abutment of the highway ramp.

Harahan Bridge
Harahan Bridge
These two photos are views looking southwest towards the upriver face of the Harahan Bridge as seen from Ashburn-Coppock Park along the Memphis riverfront. The photo above is a close view of the spans over the navigation channel. The photo below is a profile view of the bridge. Note that there are three parallel bridges at this location, two railroad bridges and one highway bridge.

Harahan Bridge

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