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Getting Across the East Side Viaduct PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack Money   
Saturday, 30 January 2010 23:14

The Central Avenue Viaduct today.


JANUARY 30, 2010 - Trying to get to the Central Avenue Bridge today is not the easiest of exercises, given the ongoing construction of the re-aligned Crosstown Expressway.

But finding a way across the Oklahoma River during the 1920s was even more difficult, and traffic traveling along Highways 77 and 66 routinely clogged Oklahoma City’s downtown business district.

It should be no surprise, then, that the inclusion of an East Side Viaduct into a plan rerouting the highway traffic through Oklahoma City away from downtown made news this week in 1930.

S. Herbert Hare, a planning consultant hired by the city, recommended bringing the traffic south through the city along Lincoln Boulevard to NE 12, then building a new street swinging the traffic west over to Stiles Avenue.

Then, designs called for a long bridge to carry the traffic across the Rock Island line north of Bricktown, across an existing Riverside Park and the Katy Railroad lines south of Bricktown, then across the river and another set of tracks owned by the Frisco Railroad before returning back to ground level on Central Avenue, north of SE 15. (1)

But designing a plan calling for such a project would be one thing. Getting it built would be something else lasting the next 20-plus years.


City leaders first considered paying for the project by using funds from a water improvements bond issue proposed in 1932. Then-City Manager Albert McRill promoted the idea by telling residents the measure could be approved by voters without them experiencing an increase in property taxes (other bonds were being retired – sound familiar?) (2)

But that didn’t happen. So, by 1933, as Oklahoma City began feeling the effects of the Great Depression, McRill and other city officials had another plan: Use stimulus money appropriated by Congress as part of a Congressional Highway Bill (could this be happening today?)

McRill and other city officials estimated the viaduct project, along with needed road improvements on its north and south ends, would cost about $1 million.

He also noted that Congressional approval of the project “would mean enlargement of the city’s regular forces and would offer employment for those now on ‘made work’ at much better wages than can be paid under president conditions.”

But McRill and L.M. Bush, then City Engineer, said there was one thing about the project they would not try to settle: Where exactly to locate the viaduct.

“A controversy is bound develop … and land prices will increase, they admit,” the reporter wrote in the article. (3)

That didn’t work out either, though, leaving city leaders significantly cutting the project down in size to control costs.

Ward 2 Councilman J.E. Taylor told the newspaper in November 1933 he thought a Central Avenue viaduct “serviceable for years” could be built for about $350,000.

And finally, the federal government agreed to help by allowing Oklahoma City to use Civil Works Administration workers to conduct a survey meant to determine where the East Side Viaduct should be located.(4)

In 1938, the proposed East Side Viaduct became a political football.

Then, Oklahoma City’s East Side Chamber of Commerce demanded that Oklahoma City include a $750,000 measure on a bond issue ballot to pay for building the bridge.

City Manager W.A. Quinn said he would not include the project on the ballot, given that the measure had failed six years earlier when it had been tried before.

Quinn also rebuffed suggestions that he had told the chamber he would support the bridge if the group would endorse a water improvements bond issue.

“The request has been received and filed,” he told the newspaper. “In the last analysis, I will not decide what will go on the ballot. The city council has that authority. However, I would rather have the opposition of the East Side Chamber of Commerce to condend with than clutter up the water bond ballot with a bridge proposal.” (5)

The project went nowhere.

In 1945, Northeast and Capitol Hill civic leaders and council members tried again – this time, by pledging to block a proposed east-west inter-regional highway in an attempt to get approval for building the viaduct.

But even these two groups could not agree on where the bridge should be built. East side businessmen north of the river wanted the bridge built at Kelley Avenue. Capitol Hill businessmen still wanted the viaduct on Central Avenue. The controversy prompted the City Council to decide at the time to shelve its plans to link in with a coming national highway system.(6)

In 1947, council members again debated where such a bridge should be built. An attempt by Ward 4 Councilman G.A. Stark to get a resolution approved requiring the bridge to be built along Central Avenue died without a second, as did another by Ward 2 Councilman Percy Jones to get it built on Byers, instead.

Later the same year, the council ordered yet another study to determine where the viaduct should be built. City engineers came back saying they didn’t believe the Central Avenue location was viable, given the amount of money currently available in bond proceeds that voters eventually had approved.

The city, engineer J.S. Waldrep pointed out, had no rights of way from Reno to SE 15. Also, because of the Katy Railroad tracks south of the river, a longer bridge would have to be built than the city could afford, he reported.

“A number of features ran the cost of the Central Location out of consideration,” Waldrep said. “We just had to forget that.” (7)

Capitol Hill businessmen, however, remained convinced of the Central Avenue location’s viability. Finally, the following month, a compromise was reached.

The viaduct project would be anchored on the north by Byers Avenue, then would swing southwest diagonally to link it with Central Avenue on the south side of the river and the railroad tracks.(8)

But, believe it or not, that decision proved not to be an end to our story.

The following June, Oklahoma City leaders were told by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the bridge might cross only dry land.

The Corps, you see, was busy designing the Oklahoma City Floodway – yes, the ditch you and I got used to seeing passing south of downtown for all those years before MAPS. Capitol Hill businessmen urged the city to build the bridge anyway, regardless of the Corps’ plans.

Eventually, the Corps made two proposals. One called for building a river-bottom canal. In this plan, the bridge only would cross railroad tracks and dry land, with the river passing south of where the bridge was planned. Under a cheaper plan to build a system of levees, the bridge still would cross the river.(9)

Ultimately, in 1949, the bridge got built and – thankfully – still crosses water today.

Council members would continue to spar in later years on the details – getting a design and funding approved to tie the river crossing into Lincoln Bouleavard, and later having to get the state of Oklahoma’s approval for the link in 1953.

Today, of course, the bridge remains,despite the Interstate 40 relocation work, and specialized LED lighting on its piers provides a scenic backdrop for recreational events along the Oklahoma River.



  1. “Viaduct on East Side Put in Plan,” The Oklahoman, January 26, 1930
  2. “Way Seen To Vote Viaduct, Water Bonds,” The Oklahoman, March 6, 1932
  3. “Manager Backs Move To Ask Federal Fund For Eastside Viaduct,” The Oklahoman, June 13, 1933
  4. “City To Start River Viaduct Survey Work,” The Oklahoman, January 17, 1934
  5. “Quinn Denies Viaduct Plea of East Side,” The Oklahoman, June 23, 1938
  6. “City Council Shelves Plans For Link With Inter-Regional Roads,” The Oklahoman, October 5, 1945
  7. “Central Ruled Out for Site of New Bridge,” The Oklahoman, September 18, 1947
  8. “Pact Finally Reached on East Side Viaduct,” The Oklahoman, October 22, 1947
  9. “New Byers Bridge May Miss River,” The Oklahoman, January 1, 1949