The City of Bridge City is surrounded by waterways and it takes its name from
the many bridges around its perimeter. At the south end of town are the scenic
Rainbow Bridge, the south’s tallest bridge, spanning 176 feet above and 680
feet across the Neches River. Adjacent, is the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, the
sister span to the Rainbow Bridge. At the north end of town are double bridges
crossing Cow Bayou on State Highway 87. One of which is The Cow Bayou Bridge,
an old swing bridge that was dedicated and opened in 1941. It is one of two
of its kind and age in the entire state. At the east entrance of town, is a
smaller steel drawbridge that began operation prior to 1936.
The story of the bridge’s construction began in 1926 when a ferry began operating across the 1,000-foot wide Neches River at Dryden crossing. The ferry was part of the Texas 87 highway system between Port Arthur and Orange
In 1927 C. G. Parker, Allan Smith and William Lea of Orange began to campaign for a bridge to replace Dryden Ferry across the Neches River.
At the time Port Arthur residents en route to Orange or travelers heading for points east sometimes had to wait as long as four or five hours for their turn on the ferry or had to go around through Orangefield or the old Roundbunch Road.
Beaumont officials were against the bridge idea from the start. The Beaumont Chamber of Commerce referred to the bridge as a “menace to navigation.”
On December 10, 1927 the first of several bond issues for a bridge was defeated.
Two years later, in May and June of 1929, the Neches River went on a rampage. Floods halted traffic on the Old Spanish Trail between Beaumont and Orange.
Traffic was detoured over the Dryden Ferry and Beaumont motorists got a sample of Orange travelers’ frustration.
On April 3, 1931, the state announced it would contribute $325,000 for a bridge if Orange and Jefferson counties paid the other half. The United States War Department ratified plans for a bridge December 26, 1933. Bridge foes ignored the state and war department actions and continued their fight.
Finally it looked as though there might be an end to the feuding. On October 28, 1934 Beaumont officials offered to stop the opposition if the vertical clearance was raised to 185 feet so that the tallest dirigible tender ship in the Navy could pass under it. This was bartered down to between 155 and 176 feet.
So after much stalling and many detours, bridge construction plans started moving. On November 5, 1934, the Texas House passed a bill for bridge #111-9. On November 9, 1934 the Texas Senate also approved the bridge bill and on November 30, 1934, Texas Governor Miriam A. Ferguson signed a bill providing for a free bridge across the Neches River. Joint financing for the project was secured from three agencies: Jefferson County for $75,000; the Texas Highway Department for $842,976 and the U. S. Public Works Administration for $1.142 million.
Work began in March 1936 and when the two-year Rainbow Bridge construction was completed in 1938. The bridge stood at 7,700 feet long, an extreme height of 230 feet and with a grade of 5 percent, the structure had the distinction of being the tallest highway bridge in the South and one of the highest in the United States with a total cost of $2.735 million. The Rainbow Bridge was dedicated September 8, 1938.
Local communities rather than the state highway department do naming of bridges other than descriptive names. The Rainbow Bridge was officially called the Neches River Bridge but locals had a number of names for it. If you lived in Jefferson County the structure was likely called the Orange Bridge and those living in Orange County called it the Port Arthur Bridge.
The bridge received its name in 1957 when the North Port Arthur Lions Club decided to hold a contest to give the 19-year-old bridge a name. Six year Christy Loupe, then McClintock, of Port Arthur told her grandfather the bridge looked like a mechanical rainbow, Christy was the first to submit the name of Rainbow Bridge winning the recognition for naming the bridge and a $50 savings bond.
The Rainbow Bridge observed its 50th anniversary on September 8, 1988 with celebrations hosted by The Bridge City Chamber of Commerce.
The bridge closed in 1992 for refurbishment, the project included sandblasting the structure and repainting, repairing and replacing worn out sections, adding a new concrete deck and widening the lanes from 22.5 feet to 28 feet. Officials said this would bring the bridge up to minimum federal standards in a one-way two-lane bridge.
Workers also replaced 375 feet of the concrete-supported spans on each side of the bridge with a new design and traded the metal bridge rails for concrete rails.
VETERAN’S MEMORIAL BRIDGE
Veteran’s Memorial Bridge over the Neches River between Bridge City and Port
Arthur has the honor of being the first cable-stayed suspension segmental concrete
bridge in the state of Texas.
The bridge uses cables streaming from towers on either side of the river to hold its deck and roadway in place about 120 feet below the top of the towers. The towers reach a height of 272 feet and hold fourteen pairs of cables.
The Veteran’s Memorial Bridge has a total length of 9,440 feet and a grade of 3.65 percent. It has a center span across the river of 640 feet. The center span is flanked by side spans of 280 and 140 feet. The main span is made up of 10-foot concrete segments, which were precast in Victoria and shipped to the site, by barge. Beams spanning the underside of the bridge were precast in San Marcos and trucked to the site.
The new bridge clears the river by 143 feet, five feet above minimum required water clearance at the time of its approval. The bridge is situated about 400 feet downstream from the Rainbow Bridge and about a mile from the mouth of the Neches River.
Being located along the coast, the Veterans Memorial Bridge is subject to hurricane force winds. A model of the new bridge was tested in a wind tunnel to withstand winds up to 150 miles per hour.
It took more than 30 years for the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge to become a reality. Faced with increasing traffic and the limitations of the Rainbow Bridge’s narrow roadway, officials began a concentrated effort for a new bridge in the 1950's. Definite plans for a second span were authorized in 1959 and purchasing of the right of way for the structure began.
Running into environmental objections, the state decided in 1966 to build the bridge downstream of the Rainbow Bridge instead of upstream as proposed. Following Congressional approval of new environmental legislation in 1968, it took another 13 years to receive a permit to build the bridge. Completed plans were submitted to the state in 1982, and a contract was awarded in 1984 to build the bridge.
Six years later the new bridge was dedicated on September 8, 1990, the 52nd anniversary of the opening of the Rainbow Bridge. The Veteran’s Memorial Bridge was officially opened for traffic October 15, 1991. The cost to the Texas Highway Department to build the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge was $22.8 million.
The new bridge was named Veteran’s Memorial Bridge before it opened. Organizers of the Veteran’s Memorial Park at the foot of the bridge on the Jefferson County side, requested the name Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, and the request was approved by the Jefferson and Orange County Commissioners Court. A portion of Highway 87 was also named Veteran’s Memorial Highway
BRIDGES AT A GLANCE
(Over Neches River, one mile from mouth on State Highway 87)
||Veterans Memorial (new)
|Clearance above water
|Main span width
|Highest point on structure
|Cost (bridge only)
|Time to build
|Lives lost on project
Concrete pilings (20 inches square), 78,000 linear feet
Concrete 40,000 cubic yards
Prestressed concrete beams, 45,000 linear feet
Reinforcing bars, 2.5 million pounds
Steel cable stays, 263,400 pounds
Concrete, 31,700 cubic yards
Reinforcing steel, 1,504 tons
Structural steel, 9,500 tons
Untreated timber foundation piling, 110,600 feet
Creosoted timber piling (fender protection), 18,228 feet
Steel “H” piling, 2,448 feet
Paint, 19,000 gallons
COW BAYOU BRIDGE
In August 1940 the State of Texas built a bridge over Cow Bayou and six miles of approaches on Highway 87 at a cost of approximately $386,000.
About 3,000 people attended the formal opening. Miriam David of Orange cut the ribbon, her father, J. H. David, Sr. was the master of ceremonies. The Maroon and Gold Band of Port Arthur’s Thomas Jefferson High School performed. The county judge at the time was F. W. Hustmyre.
The original bridge crossing Cow Bayou was made of steel and timber and was only 17 feet wide. A fatal accident on the bridge in 1937 prompted the state to build the current swing bridge.
The flat, concrete bridge joining this bedroom community to the rest of Orange County doesn’t seem very impressive.
It sits in the shadow of a newer, taller southbound bridge on its West Side, and motorists traveling north as they leave Bridge City on Texas 87 can hardly tell that the swamps of Cow Bayou are just 12 feet below.
The only immediate visible sign that this bridge is different from any other is the red and white faded gates on each side of the bridge, held back by chains and an old shack in the middle of the bridge.
Those gates signal that the bridge is one of the last of a dying breed - a swing bridge that rests on a central concrete pier and pivots at a 90-degree angle to allow watercraft to pass on either side of the bridge. The bridge hasn’t seen regular boat traffic since the 1960's.
The department of transportation has wanted to replace the bridge with one identical to the adjacent bridge, which was built in 1972 to alleviate traffic snarls on the swing bridge, but the department has found a slight kink in its proposed $6.6 million project.
The flat, concrete bridge is special.
It is one of two of its kind and age in the entire state. The bridge, completed in 1941, is eligible for listing in the national register of historic places. The only other one like it is over the Sabine River in Deweyville.
Moving the bridge doesn’t seem to be an option because it is a single slab of concrete that weighs several tons.
An attempt in July 2003 to open the bridge was plagued by problems and led to electricians spending two months crawling under and around the old Cow Bayou Bridge replacing the electrical systems, which cost about $72,000. Because Cow Bayou is a navigable waterway, federal regulations prohibit it from being blocked by an immovable bridge.
Opening and closing of the bridge is an experience in patience.
The bridge sits on what is basically a huge geared-turn table that has four wedge-shaped steel pins weighing more than 150 pounds each. Every corner has a pin holding the bridge in place when it is not in operation.
Hot weather can cause the metal in the bridge to expand making it harder to pry the section apart when the huge electric motors begin operation.
Workers are placed at every corner keeping an eye on the pins as the bridge is closed and opened trying to make the bridge fit perfectly and safe for traffic.
When the bridge starts moving, workers call in instructions over the radio to an operator in the small booth on the bridge. The operator must throw a variety of old switches and pull levers in response to control the bridge. The motors locking the pins into place are individually operated as well.
EAST ROUNDBUNCH BRIDGE
East Roundbunch Bridge, a steel drawbridge, began operation prior to 1936 & is maintained by the county.
“Building Bridges Together” is the official motto of Bridge City, adopted by the City Council and Chamber of Commerce in 1995.