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The Lewis and Clark Bridge


The Missouri River was a formidable obstacle to travel in North Dakota. Travelers were thrilled when the situation was resolved. On this date in 1916, traffic in the Williston area saw a most welcome improvement. The Grand Forks Herald announced that both the old and the new channels of the Missouri River had been crossed at Williston using thirty-five boats and wooden planks to form a pontoon bridge. The project had been finished with remarkable speed, and there were no accidents during construction. Once the materials arrived, the bridge took only a week to complete. Hundreds of spectators arrived every day to watch the construction.

The bridge was located at the narrowest point of the river. This resulted in a shorter bridge of only 500 feet, but the river current proved to be a challenge. While the old channel was described as slow and sluggish, the current in the new channel was swift. That remains the case today. From the Fort Peck Dam to Williston, a distance of 145 miles, the river drops 188 feet, and the current can reach seven miles an hour.

Less than two years after construction, the current became too much for the bridge, and it was destroyed by flood in 1918. A new, more substantial structure was built in 1927, but it eventually proved inadequate for the load of heavier cars and trucks. It was replaced in 1973.

As traffic increased in the modern era, the need for a four-lane bridge became clear. The new Lewis and Clark Bridge is part of the U-S 85 Four Lane Project, which created thirty-three miles of four-lane roadway from Watford City to Williston. Originally scheduled for completion in 2016, the bridge was finally opened to traffic this year (2017) – a far cry from the rickety pontoon structure a century before.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Grand Forks Herald. “Finish Bridge Over Missouri.” 5 September, 1916.

Dakota Department of Transportation. “Lewis and Clark Bridge.” https://www.dot.nd.gov/projects/williston/lc/

12 August, 2017.

John Weeks III. “Lewis and Clark Bridge.” http://www.johnweeks.com/river_missouri/pages/nd_mo_09.html
Accessed 12 August, 2017.