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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge Ruins
Historic Missouri River Highway Crossing
Omaha, NE

Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge

• Structure ID: N/A.
• Location: River Mile 615.8.
• River Elevation: 961 Feet.
• Highway: US-6, US-75.
• Daily Traffic Count: 0 (Bridge Has Been Removed).
• Bridge Type: Iron Through Truss, Deck Truss Approach.
• Length: 1,400 Feet (Estimated).
• Width: 20 Feet (Estimated), Expanded to 44 Feet (Estimated).
• Navigation Channel Width: 200 Feet (Estimated).
• Height Above Water: ??? Feet.
• Date Built: 1888.
The first non-railroad bridge was built in Omaha in 1888 to link Douglas Street in Omaha with West Broadway in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was built by the Omaha and Council Bluffs Street Railway Company. This lightly built iron truss bridge featured a single lane for wagons and pedestrians, along with tracks for street cars on the downstream side of the structure. The bridge was initially called the Douglas Street Bridge, and it operated as a toll bridge.

Starting at the Omaha side of the river, the bridge featured a short through truss span, a longer deck truss span, a main channel through truss about 200 feet long, then a lengthy series of deck truss spans on the Iowa side of the river crossing the east half of the Missouri River as well as the river flats area. At some point in the bridge's lifespan, the structure was expanded to double its width. One addition pier was added to the downstream side of the bridge next to each pair of existing bridge piers. The truss spans were then doubled in width by adding structure to the downstream side of the existing trusses. I have not determined when this expansion took place, but it probably happened about the time that cars became popular in the 1920s.

Once cars did become common on the bridge, local residents started to complain about those tolls. To address the toll problem, a local charity called the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben purchased the bridge in 1938, as well as the South Omaha Bridge, with the intention of eventually removing the tools. The Knights first had to pay off their bridge debt, but followed through with removing the tolls in 1947. The name Ak-Sar-Ben is Nebraska spelled backwards. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek since the name was picked after someone commented that everything was going backwards in Nebraska at the time the organization was founded in 1895 to save the Nebraska State Fair.

The Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge was becoming obsolete in the 1960s due to its light iron structure. When the Interstate highway system was planned, Interstate I-480 was planned to run just north of downtown Omaha, with the mainline I-80 bypassing downtown to the south. I-480 featured a long elevated expressway on the north side of downtown, then a long steel girder bridge over the Missouri River, where it connected to Interstate I-29 just after entering Iowa. The I-480 bridge opened in November 1966, at which time the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge closed. Local residents attempted to keep the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge as a pedestrian walkway, but that was not to be. The old structure was removed in 1968. All that remains today is a single set of bridge piers standing tall in the Missouri River just east of the navigation channel near the Iowa shore.

By the way, Omaha did eventually get its pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River when the magnificent Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge opened in 2008. This signature cable stayed structure has proven to be popular with local residents as well as becoming a tourist attraction.

Road scholar Jeff Morrison has researched the highways that used the Douglas Street Bridge, and later when it was known as the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge. Here are his findings, and reproduced from the Iowa Highway Ends web site:

Time Period Highways
1926 - 1931 US-30, US-75
1931 - 1934 US-6, US-30S, US-75
1934 - 1939 US-6, US-30A, US-75
1939 - 1941 US-6, US-30A, US-75, US-275, IA-92
1941 - 1960 US-6, US-30A, US-75, IA-92
1960 - 1966 US-6, US-30A, US-75

The only remaining part of the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge is a single set of iron piers in the middle of the Missouri River located just downstream from the Interstate highway I-480 Grenville Dodge Bridge. Douglas Street ends on the Nebraska side of the river at South 8th Street, about 1,000 feet short of the river. The Nebraska side was extensively landscaped to build a park, so there are no traces of the old bridge remaining in Omaha. On the Iowa side, the right-of-way for Broadway Street is still visible between the levee and Interstate highway I-29.

The photo above is looking northwest towards the remaining bridge pier of the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge as seen from the east bank of the Missouri River. The photo below is looking east across the river towards the bridge pier from the riverfront in Omaha.

Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
These two images are scans of period postcards of the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge. The postcard above is looking northwest from the Iowa side of the river, while the postcard below is on the bridge deck, apparently looking east towards Iowa from the Omaha side of the structure.

Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
I was able to find two additional postcards of the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge, including one that is a photograph rather than a painting. On the older postcard above, we see just a single wagon path and street card track, while on the two previous postcards, we see a bridge with two tracks and two traffic lanes. The postcard below shows that the downstream piers are slightly different from the other two piers. It appears that this bridge was expanded by grafting a second truss onto the downstream side of the structure.

Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge
The photo above is the levee on the Iowa side of the river where the east abutment of the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge would have once landed. The photo below is where Broadway Street once connected to the Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge. The street right-of-way is somewhat clear with a little brush. I suspect that it was used as an access point for past improvements to the levee.

Ak-Sar-Ben Bridge

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