US-41 / Menominee River

MDOT Historic Bridge Menominee County US-41 / Menominee River

County: Menominee

City/Township: Menominee

Location: US-41 / Menominee River

Year Built: 1929

About this Bridge:
Located at the southern edge of Menominee, the Menominee County seat, this multiple-span steel bridge spans the Menominee River immediately below the M&M Paper Company Dams. The Menominee-Marinette Bridge carries US-41 between Menominee, in Michigan, and Marinette, in Wisconsin, on the line between the two states.

Extending 850 feet, this structure is configured with eleven 80-foot, steel plate deck girder spans and two short stringer approach spans, all supported by concrete pedestal piers. The variable-depth girders are made up of steel plate webs, with riveted angle flanges and web stiffeners. They carry the 55-foot-wide concrete deck. Completed in 1929, the Menominee-Marinette Bridge was rehabilitated in 1970 by widening its deck and replacing its original guardrails with aluminum tube-type rails. This rehabilitation has changed the roadway appearance of the bridge, but the original superstructure beneath remains essentially unaltered.

The bridge over the Menominee River Between Menominee and Marinette has historically been the source of controversy: between rival factions, between the two communities, and between the two states. When Menominee County was formed in 1863, no reliable overland link existed between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. That year the Green Bay-Bay du Noc state road was proposed to proved this link. To be paid for by proceeds from land grants, the route would extend from the mouth of the Menominee River to Marquette.

The Menominee County segment was completed in 1865; local interests soon began pressing for a bridge here to replace the existing ferry service across the Menominee River. Both the Michigan and Wisconsin legislatures authorized the bridge, but it died in a pocket veto by the governor of Wisconsin. In 1866 the bridge was approved by both states, sparking a heated rivalry between factions on both sides of the river over its location. The argument was finally resolved, and a year later the timber crib structure was built by N. Ludington.

This was followed in 1872 by another timber bridge over the Menominee, built just above the paper mill dam. The new bridge ignited another controversy – this time over whether the cities or the lumber company would pay for the bridge. The cities eventually paid, but more bickering continued through the 1870s and 1880s, as the losing faction from the 1866 argument continued to lobby for a bridge at the mouth of the Menominee. They finally got their way in 1887, with the construction of a draw bridge here.

The combatants were mollified for about twelve years, until the needed reconstruction of the paper mill bridge again pitted the two sides of the river against each other.

“The old bridge had been condemned as unsafe,” the Menominee Herald-Leader later reported. “It was necessary to drive through the paper mill yard to get to the bridge which was about 250 feet above the dam. Because there was 20 feet of water above the dam and shallow water below, the two cities decided on a new location below the dam and raised $24,000 to build a new bridge.”

There were no existing streets on both sides of the river to connect with the proposed bridge, however. The ensuing stand-off was resolved six months later, and the replacement bridge was named after Frank Erditz, chairman of the joint bridge committee that solved the problem.

When the middle bridge came due for replacement in the 1920s, the rival factions re-ignited their long-simmering animosities. The City of Menominee initiated the proceedings in 1923 by declaring the bridge unsafe and designating the approach street on its side as a one-way thoroughfare. Marinette “objected most strenuously” to the designation and filed a lawsuit in the Menominee County Court challenging its legality. When Wisconsin highway officials also declared the bridge unsafe, Marinette relented. The two state highway departments held hearings in the fall of 1923 and the spring of 1924, presenting their plan for a replacement structure.

“Despite all the disagreements in opinion which followed, that plan approximately represents the splendid new structure of today in location, type and everything else connected with it,” the Herald-Leader stated.

MSHD proposed relocating the bridge to eliminate a railroad crossing on the bridge’s north end, which was acceptable to Marinette. But Menominee business interests balked until December 1924, when the War Department condemned the existing drawbridge at the river’s mouth.

“The cities combined in a rather stunned, ineffectual protest but countless sailors and others testified that the bridge was a menace; that its channel swing span was far too narrow and that it was altogether unsatisfactory to navigation,” reported the Herald-Leader.

This latest news diverted the cities’ attention away from the middle bridge controversy, as they searched desperately for a solution to the drawbridge dilemma. With their own proposed structure on the table, the two states refused to fund reconstruction of the drawbridge, and the cities could not afford the quarter-million-dollar cost without state or federal assistance. Marinette wanted a new middle bridge; Menominee wanted a new drawbridge. This latest stand-off continued through 1926, exacerbated by the closure of the drawbridge, which at the time was the only two-way bridge between the two cities.

Finally, in March 1927 Menominee voters approved the middle bridge (their share of which would now be paid completely by federal and state funds) and a bond issue for a new drawbridge. Three weeks later the Michigan legislature approved the new interstate bridge, and in June 1927 the Wisconsin legislature followed suit. By this time both the middle bridge and the drawbridge had been closed, all but choking traffic between the cities. Still, it was not until December 1927 that an agreement could be executed between the two cities and the two states.
The Michigan highway department delineated plans for the new bridge and awarded a contract for its construction to G.R. Meyer and Sons of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Compared with the years of fighting that preceded it, construction progressed smoothly until the bridge’s completion in December 1929. Total cost: about $700,000. The Menominee-Marinette Bridge has since carried heavy interstate traffic. This crossing has played a long-standing and often controversial role in overland traffic between the two states. Although altered, the Menominee-Marinette Bridge is one of the Upper Peninsula’s most important vehicular bridges.