2008: The Discovery Bridge Between South Dakota and Nebraska Opened Its Span to Traffic

October 11, 2008

The Discovery Bridge, carrying U.S. Highway 81 across the Missouri River and connecting the city of Yankton, South Dakota, with Cedar County, Nebraska, was formally opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by thousands of people. Public officials on hand for this Saturday morning event included Nebraska Governor Tim Heineman; U.S. Senators Tim Johnson of South Dakota, John Thune of South Dakota, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska; U.S. Representatives Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska; and Yankton Mayor Dan Specht.

“I have been looking forward to joining with community members from South Dakota and Nebraska alike to celebrate the opening of the Discovery Bridge,” said Senator Johnson at the time. “Infrastructure improvements like this do not happen overnight.”

Mayor Specht highlighted the structure’s wide range of potential benefits for those living in or traveling through the region. “This new bridge means many, many things to many different types of people,” he said. “Whether it’s a farmer with equipment, a trucker who’s taking [produce] in out of or into the city of Yankton or a traveler or visitor, this bridge is important to our community.”

Following the ceremony, Yankton residents Dave Spenser and Jim Black were among those in the first automobile to officially cross the Discovery Bridge. Spencer submitted the winning name for the bridge in a contest that was held in 2007, and Black served as the longtime chairman of the Building Yankton’s Bridge to the Future Committee. After the entire motorcade crossed the Discovery Bridge, the structure was closed for several hours so that the remaining barricades could be removed to allow for the free flow of regular traffic.

The Discovery Bridge, measuring 1,590 feet (484.6 meters) in length and 74 feet (22.6 meters) in width, was completed a year ahead of schedule and came in under budget. In recognition of the innovative management and timeliness that went into the construction of this bridge, the structure was a finalist in the 2009 America’s Transportation Awards competition.

The four-lane Discovery Bridge’s prominent architectural features include a total of 14 decorative 50-foot (15.2-meter)-tall spires that are wired for lighting. The Discovery Bridge was built as a replacement for the Meridian Highway Bridge, which is located approximately 1,000 feet (304.8 meters) downstream and had been opened 84 years earlier.

The Meridian Highway Bridge was the final link of the Meridian Highway. This highway originated in 1911 and stretched from Pembina, North Dakota, to Fort Worth, Texas. A large part of the 2,400-mile (3,862-kilometer)-long highway was reclassified as U.S. Highway 81 in 1926. The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. With the nearby Discovery Bridge now handling the vehicular traffic traveling across that section of the Missouri River, the Meridian Highway Bridge provides a similar service for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Additional information on the Discovery Bridge and its 2008 opening are available at https://siouxcityjournal.com/news/state-and-regional/new-discovery-bridge-links-s-d-nebraska/article_78a45403-e51d-5597-98b5-fdd275282a7f.html​.

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