Do us a favor and pick a bridge — any bridge — across the Salt River. Which one came to mind? Maybe along Interstate 10 near Sky Harbor International Airport?
Then there are the crossings on Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway near where it hits Loop 101 Pima Freeway and the Loop 202 South Mountain between Broadway and Southern. If you are feeling particular adventurous, you might have gone for the U.S. 60 bridges going up the appropriately named Salt River Canyon.
As we’ve mentioned previously, there are quite a few crossings across this important Arizona waterway. But there is one that seems to receive a lot less attention, and we aim to change that.
Meet the other Salt River bridge. It has carried State Route 288 traffic across the river in Gila County since 1920. More impressive than its centennial of service is the fact that it has done so without being changed.
The bridge began coming to life in 1918, when the newly formed Bureau of Public Roads (one of the predecessors to the Federal Highway Administration) began scouting a location for a new road in the Tonto and Crook National Forest. This earth road would intersect with the Apache Trail near Roosevelt and then 44 miles north to the town of Young.
One of the new road’s major components was a bridge over the Salt River, near the head of Roosevelt Lake. The bridge design was completed in 1919 and the structure was built by the end of 1920. If you look at our historic bridge inventory for Gila County, you’ll see that it’s inventory number is only 37, so yes, it was one of the earliest bridges built after Arizona became a state.
The bridge itself features a long-span steel truss, know as a Parker truss, with footings set directly into the solid-rock shoreline, as well as a concrete deck flanked by steel pipe guardrails. You can still see all that today, as the bridge remains almost exactly as it was built, with very few alterations done over the decades.
Although it’s considered a remote crossing, the SR 288 Salt River Bridge is important in state bridge history. It’s the earliest documented example of a bridge constructed by the Bureau of Public Roads in Arizona. The agency was extensively involved with road and bridge construction throughout the state, both indirectly by reviewing state-engineered federal-aid projects and directly by building roads and structures through national monuments, forests and parks.
If that wasn’t good enough, the bridge is also remarkable as the earliest and longest through-truss bridge still in its original location. Finally, just for added fame, it’s also only one of four Parker trusses found in ADOT’s statewide bridge inventory.
We could also add that Roosevelt Lake is a just a scenic place for an afternoon drive, and what better way to remember this other Salt River bridge than by using it? And maybe you could wish it a happy 101th birthday while you are at it.
We think it doesn’t look a day over 65!
Kathy Cline is a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Transportation.