Navajo Bridge

Navajo Bridge is a pair of steel spandrel arch bridges that cross the Colorado River near Lee's Ferry in northern Arizona. The newer bridge of the pair carries vehicular traffic on U.S. Route 89A (US 89A) over Marble Canyon between southern Utah and the Arizona Strip, allowing travel into a remote region north of the Colorado River including the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Navajo Bridge
View to east with 1929 bridge at left, 1995 bridge at right, and the Echo Cliffs in the background
Coordinates 36°49′01″N 111°37′52″W
Carries US 89A
CrossesColorado River at Marble Canyon
LocaleLee's Ferry
Official nameNavajo Steel Arch Highway Bridge
Designopen-spandrel arch bridge with 90 feet (27 m) rise (both)
Total length834 feet (254 m) 1st
909 feet (277 m) 2nd[1]
Width18 feet (5.5 m) 1st
44 feet (13 m) 2nd[1]
Longest span616 feet (188 m) 1st
726 feet (221 m) 2nd[1]
No. of spans2
Piers in water0
Clearance below467 feet (142.3 m) 1st
470 feet (143.3 m) 2nd[1]
Construction startJune 1927 (1st)
May 1993 (2nd)[1]
Construction end1929 (1st)
1995 (2nd)[1]
OpenedJanuary 12, 1929 (1st)
May 2, 1995 (2nd)[1]
Navajo Steel Arch Highway Bridge
The 1927 bridge on the NRHP
Nearest cityPage, Arizona
Coordinates36°49′2″N 111°37′53″W
ArchitectArizona Highway Dept.; Et al.
Architectural styleOther
MPSVehicular Bridges in Arizona MPS
NRHP reference #81000134[2]
Added to NRHPAugust 13, 1981

Prior to completion of the first Navajo Bridge, one of the only Colorado River crossings between Arizona and Utah was located about 5 mi (8.0 km) upstream from the bridge site, at the mouth of Glen Canyon where Lee's Ferry service had operated since 1873. The ferry site had been chosen as the only relatively easy access to the river for both northbound and southbound travellers. By the 1920s, automobile traffic began using the ferry service though it was not considered a safe and reliable crossing as adverse weather and flooding regularly prevented its operation.[1]

The dedication of the original bridge was on June 14–15, 1929 with an official name of the Grand Canyon Bridge. The state legislature changed the name to Navajo Bridge five years later in 1934. The original bridge was closed to vehicular traffic and opened only for pedestrian and equestrian use once the new bridge was opened in 1995.[1]

The dual spans of Navajo Bridge are tied at ninth place among the highest bridges in the United States with nearly identical heights of 467 feet (142.3 m) for the original span, and 470 feet (143.3 m) for the second span.[1]


Construction of the original Navajo Bridge began in 1927, and the bridge opened to traffic in 1929. The bridge was paid for by the nascent Arizona State Highway Commission (now the Arizona Department of Transportation) in cooperation with the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the eastern landing is on the Navajo Nation. The steel spandrel bridge design was constructed by the Kansas City Structural Steel Company. During construction, worker Lane McDaniel died after falling 470 feet (143 m) to the Colorado River below. Supervisors had rejected the idea of rigging safety netting, believing that it would catch on fire from falling hot rivets.[3]

The original bridge is 834 feet (254 m) in length, with a maximum height of 467 feet (142 m) from the canyon floor. The roadway offers an 18-foot (5.5 m) surface width with a load capacity of 22.5 tons (although the posted legal weight limit was 40 tons). During the design phase, a wider roadway was considered, but ultimately rejected, as it would have required a costly third arch to be added to the design, and the vehicles of the time did not require a wider road.

By 1990, however, officials decided that the traffic flow was too great for the original bridge and that a new solution was needed. The sharp corners in the roadway on each side of the approach had become a safety hazard due to low visibility, and deficiencies resulting from the original design's width and load capacity specifications were becoming problematic. The bridge had also become part of U.S. Route 89A.

Deciding on a solution was difficult, due to the many local interests. Issues included preservation of sacred Navajo land, endangered plant species in Marble Canyon, and the possibility of construction debris entering the river. The original proposal called for merely widening and fortifying the bridge, but this was ultimately rejected as not able to meet contemporary federal highway standards. Replacement became the only option, and it was eventually decided to entirely discontinue vehicular traffic on the original bridge. A new bridge would be built immediately next to the original and have a considerably similar visual appearance, but would conform to modern highway codes.

The new steel arch bridge was commissioned by the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, and was completed in May 1995, at a cost of $14.7 million. A formal dedication was held on September 14, 1995.[1]

The original Navajo Bridge is still open to pedestrian and equestrian use, and an interpretive center has been constructed nearby to showcase the historical nature of the bridge and early crossing of the Colorado River. The original bridge has been designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 13, 1981.[2]

Bridge characteristics

Original bridge (1929)

Total length: 834 feet (254 m)
Steel arch length: 616 feet (188 m)
Arch rise: 90 feet (27 m)
Height above river: 467 feet (142 m)
Width of the roadway: 18 feet (5.5 m)

Amount of steel: 2,400,000 pounds (1,100,000 kg)
Amount of concrete: 500 cubic yards (382 m3)
Amount of steel reinforcement: 82,000 pounds (37,000 kg)

Construction cost: $390,000[1]

New bridge (1995)

Total length: 909 feet (277 m)
Steel arch length: 726 feet (221 m)
Arch rise: 90 feet (27 m)
Height above river: 470 feet (143 m)
Width of the roadway: 44 feet (13 m)

Amount of steel: 3,900,000 pounds (1,800,000 kg)
Amount of concrete: 1,790 cubic yards (1,370 m3)
Amount of steel reinforcement: 434,000 pounds (197,000 kg)

Construction cost $14,700,000[1]

See also


  1. "Navajo Bridge". National Park Service. n.d. Archived from the original on January 4, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  2. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. Ghiglieri, Michael P.; Myers, Thomas M. (2001). Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (First Edition, sixth printing, first revision ed.). p. 25. ISBN 0-9700973-0-1. Months later, on June 12, 1928, Lane McDaniels, age 42, was working on the partially constructed Navajo Bridge at River Mile 4. Despite this being the tallest steel bridge in the world at the time, the supervisors vetoed rigging safety netting under the bridge because they were sure that hot rivets dropping by accident might ignite it. McDaniels, unfortunately, missed his footing on a scaffold. He fell. And there being no net, he plummeted about 470 feet into the Colorado River. His fellow workers stared down in horror. They said that, upon impact, McDaniels' body seemed to "burst and flatten out" on the surface of the water. Four steelworkers quit after McDaniels death, not from fear of falling, but from the dismal prospect of being swallowed up by the turbulent waters of the Colorado if they did fall, with no hope that their bodies would ever be recovered.

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