Original Salt River Bridge a 'beautiful piece of filigree'

Original Salt River Bridge a 'beautiful piece of filigree'

By Kathy Cline / ADOT Communications
April 7, 2021

Is it just a bridge, or a beautiful piece of technology and metalwork? The answer - if you're talking about the Salt River Canyon bridge - is both!

It all began in 1930, when Arizona Highway Department surveyors started looking around for a new all-weather route to Arizona's northeast region. They found the nearly perfect bridge site 43 miles north of Globe, at the Salt River Canyon. But concrete was scarce and the bridge had to be a single free span over the canyon, so the department settled upon a two-hinged steel deck arch design.  

Once work on US 60 was ready, construction of the bridge began once in 1933. The project proceeded slowly because of multiple issues getting the bridge's curvature just right. In January 1934, work began on the first pylon. By June, the bridge was finally finished. Unlike most bridges designed by the highway department at the time - which tended to be unadorned and utilitiarian -  this one was distinguished by decorative steel pylons at the arch corners and ornamented steel guardrails that flanked the curved concrete deck. The beauty was not lost on the public. In fact, one of the department's engineers remarked that at a distance, with its shining aluminum features, the Salt River Canyon bridge looked "more like a delicate piece of filigree than a well-designed and constructed highway bridge."

On the technological side, this was the first girder-ribbed steel arch done by the Arizona Highway Department. It was able to go up quicker than the then-standard spandrel-braced arch, so this soon became the bridge-construction norm. For decades after, the Salt River Canyon bridge carried vehicular traffic with minimal maintenance. Eventually it would be replaced when the newer, higher-capacity bridge opened to traffic in 1996.

Although it no longer carries vehicles, the original bridge is still there. Pedestrians can still walk along it, and can also rest from their walk at the restored Salt River Canyon rest area nearby before continuing on their way. And, of course, they can enjoy the view, whether that's of the canyon for the beautiful piece of filigree crossing it.