Chevelon Creek Bridge is bypassed, but not forgotten

Chevelon Creek Bridge is bypassed, but not forgotten

Kathy Cline/ADOT Communications
October 20, 2020

As a new state, Arizona didn't waste time when it came to building bridges. That's certainly the case for Chevelon Creek Bridge in Navajo County, a significant bridge from the state's early history.

The deep, rocky canyon over Chevelon Creek, east of Winslow, cuts across the Colorado Plateau, the broad, relatively flat piece of topography that makes up most of northeast Arizona. And according to a historic bridge inventory for Navajo County, this canyon formed a "practically impassible" topographic barrier to the Santa Fe Highway across northern Arizona.

The Santa Fe Highway was a portion of the longer National Old Trails Highway that entered the state at Lupton and went through to Topock. Despite expectations, the road wasn't called the Santa Fe Highway directly after the city in New Mexico. Rather it got the name because it followed the old Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, commonly just called the Santa Fe Railroad. And, yes, all this was in the age before highways had numbers.  

In 1912, the newly-minted Arizona State Legislature set aside $5,500 for construction of a bridge at this difficult spot. The Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Works received the contract for the job. The final design was for a poured-in-place concrete slab bridge deck supported by steel girders with concrete curbs and steel latice guardrails.

The contract was awarded in October 1912 and by the next July, after a mere 10 months, it was accepted by the state. The contractor even came in under budget. The Chevelon Creek Bridge then began carrying mainline traffic on the Santa Fe Highway as an important crossing for one of the nation's earliest transcontinental routes.

Unfortunately, the bridge didn't enjoy its major crossing status long. A highway realignment occurred sometime between 1917 and 1924, which shifted the route north of Chevelon Creek's junction with the Little Colorado River, closer to what is Interstate 40 today. After that, the bridge and the road over it reverted to the county.

Today, this remote crossing carries relatively sparse local traffic on McLaws Road. But that doesn't mean the state was done with the bridge yet. In 2013, it was decided the bridge needed to be closed for some much needed renovations. However, it proved to be something of a logistical challenge as the bridge had been originally coated with lead-based paint and ADOT had to abate this environmentally harmful situation.

Once that was taken care of, repairs could get underway in earnest and the bridge reopened in 2014. That's the restored bridge you see in the top photo; the bottom is its appearance right before repairs started.

Despite no longer being part of an important transcontinental road, Chevelon Creek Bridge still holds a place as one of the State of Arizona's first highway structures. It was also the first "pony truss" bridge built by the state that was designed, fabricated and erected by a nationally-important bridge firm. Only the Hereford Bridge in Cochise County exceeds it for both age and span length.

And that makes it something worth remembering.