Preservation, Road trips

Endangered: The 38-span William H. Murray Bridge on Route 66 in Oklahoma

Canadian River Bridge

It is perhaps the most iconic bridge on all of Route 66, this yellow pony-truss bridge of an incredible 38 spans. Known by three names — the William H. Murray Bridge, the Bridgeport Bridge, and the Pony Bridge — it was built in 1933 to span the South Canadian River, 21 miles west of El Reno, Oklahoma. And it’s in trouble.

At its last inspection, this bridge rated 34.9 out of 100, earning it the “Structurally Deficient” label and a recommendation the bridge be replaced. I am sure it doesn’t help at all that this bridge carries US 281 and so needs to stand up to heavy trucks and high volume, and is only 24 feet wide, considerably narrower than the modern standard for highway bridges.

Canadian River Bridge

It’s been in danger of being replaced for some time, actually. According to Bridgehunter.com, it was scheduled for replacement in 2015.

Yet it still stands, and is not entirely without hope. It is part of a segment of Route 66 listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the bridge itself is eligible for nomination to the NRHP. And now the preservationists are involved: Preservation Oklahoma features the bridge in its 2016 Endangered Places list.

Canadian River Bridge

Driving this bridge was a highlight of the Route 66 tour I took with my sons in 2013. At 3,944.3 feet — that’s nearly three quarters of a mile — the spans just kept on coming. They were mesmerizing, almost hypnotizing, as they undulated past.

Here’s hoping that this bridge has a long and happy life ahead of it. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is studying several proposals for the US 281 crossing of the South Canadian River, and all of them involve either restoring this bridge or building a new one while leaving this one in place. Unfortunately, one alternative not off the table is to do nothing. Given the bridge’s current state, this might be why Preservation Oklahoma considers it endangered.

Every answer but “do nothing” takes money, of course. Here’s hoping Oklahoma can make enough money appear to keep this bridge open for generations to come.

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8 thoughts on “Endangered: The 38-span William H. Murray Bridge on Route 66 in Oklahoma

    • All I know is what I’ve reported here. With Preservation Oklahoma on the case and this bridge being in an NRHP district, my hope is that the right pressures are already on ODOT to keep this bridge in place.

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  1. What a wonderful bridge, and you’ve told it’s story well. I hate to see these old pieces of our history disappearing. We have a wonderful bridge here in Spokane, WA. the Monroe Street Bridge. They just rebuilt it a year or so ago and kept it’s iconic personality intact. Beautiful. Also, you stated that all those options of preservation cost money, and they do, but doing nothing can sometimes be more costly if something horrible should happen because nothing was done. Thank you for your photography. You make beautiful photos.

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    • Why thank you so much for saying so!

      Time marches on; structures that once served well do become obsolete. Like this bridge. But as truss bridges have slowly been replaced over the last 50 years or so, now it’s important to save those that remain — especially unusual ones like this one.

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  2. Stephen Taylor says:

    William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray was a complex and multifaceted personality in the same vein as George Wallace. He intensely disliked blacks, yet seemed to have a broad street of compassion for the poor and downtrodden. He was fond of calling out the Oklahoma National Guard, and did so many times during the Depression. Perhaps the most memorable was during the “Toll Bridge War” with Texas. His wiki page makes great reading, and if someone would write a book about this character I’d read it.

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