Veterans’ Memorial Bridge is new to downtown Fairbanks but has been a popular topic of discussion in the community for years. It was named in honor of all veterans in the state of Alaska. Many locals will be quick to offer their opinions on the high-profile Illinois Street Reconstruction Project that took three decades from conception to completion, and included the construction of this new bridge.
The bridge carries southbound traffic across the Chena River from Illinois Street to Barnette Street and opens alternative pedestrian and bicycle access to both sides of the river just a few hundred feet downstream from the Cushman Street bridge, which carries northbound traffic on a parallel route.
Veterans Memorial Bridge was built to create safer roads, and to prepare for expected growth in years to come according to a Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article about the project. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities states in press releases that ADOT&PF oversees 255 airports, 11 ferries serving 35 communities, 5,619 miles of highway and 720 public facilities throughout the state. With so much ground to cover, the ADOT&PF must be careful in choosing where to invest federal and state resources.
Public enthusiasm for the new bridge is mixed, with some locals wondering if it was really necessary. If you ask around, you’ll hear a variety of opinions and probably a few references to “the Bridge to Nowhere,” so called because Veterans’ Memorial Bridge was built before the connecting roadway, requiring it to sit dormant for awhile.
Patrons at the Big I Pub & Lounge and nearby office employees had a jolt when a construction crane tipped over into the Chena River in 2010 and shook their buildings. Local officials staged a recovery operation to lift it out, with many curious onlookers lining bridges and outdoor decks to get a glimpse. This incident only added to the lively public banter on the project.
Regardless, Veterans’ Memorial Bridge opened with fanfare in November of 2012. A procession of antique cars borrowed from the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and private collections were the first wheels to cross the bridge, keeping in the tradition of historic bridge openings in Fairbanks. Veterans from Fairbanks marched in step and presented the colors at the mid-way point. Local, state, and federal dignitaries were on hand for the event and the ADOT&PF won a publicity award from the National Association of Government Communicators for the bridge opening and ceremony.
Now that it’s open, Veterans’ Memorial Bridge provides new vantage points of prominent features within downtown Fairbanks including Immaculate Conception Church, the Chena River, and a popular fireworks display on Winter Solstice.