YANKTON, S.D. -- After nearly two decades of effort, the states of South Dakota and Nebraska celebrated the opening of Discovery Bridge at 10 a.m. Saturday in Yankton.
The event, which drew a number of dignitaries, including U.S. Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; John Thune, R-S.D.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; U.S. Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; and Nebraska Gov. Tim Heineman, began on the southern abutment of the bridge.
Following the program there, Yankton residents Dave Spencer and Jim Black were in the first car to officially cross the bridge. Spencer submitted the name for the bridge in a naming event held in 2007. Black has served as committee chairman for the Building Yankton's Bridge to the Future Committee since it was formed almost 20 years ago.
Once the official motorcade crossed Discovery Bridge into Yankton, the bridge was closed for several hours to allow for removal of barricades and preparation for traffic. Once it was reopened, Meridian Bridge, the 84-year-old structure replaced by the new Discovery Bridge, was permanently closed to traffic.
Johnson said it was a pleasure to take part in the day's celebration.
"I have been looking forward to joining with community members from South Dakota and Nebraska alike to celebrate the opening of the Discovery Bridge," he said. "Infrastructure improvements like this do not happen overnight. I have worked with fellow legislators to secure millions of dollars in funding over the past several years to make this project a reality. Thanks to that hard work and that of the people of Yankton, our state will now have a modern gateway that will improve commerce and travel for years to come."
Yankton Mayor Dan Specht provided an article for a special Discovery Bridge publication and noted that the new bridge "means many of the same things it meant to those 20,000 area residents who showed up for the weeklong celebration of the Meridian Bridge 84 years ago.
"This new bridge means many, many things to many different types of people," Specht said. "Whether it's a farmer with equipment, a trucker who's taking product out of or into the city of Yankton or a traveler or visitor, this bridge is important to our community. At the same time, the conversion of the Meridian Bridge is very important as both a local attraction and for visitors. It's a landmark that will have an entirely different use for the future."
Black, who has been involved in development of the bridge since the inception of the idea, said completion of the bridge could open the door for further development of U.S. Highway 81 south of Yankton.
"Highway 81 is designated as the Pan American Highway," Black said. "People in Yankton and northeast Nebraska believe the fact that we had a two-lane bridge here stopped the north and south development of the highway for many years. Now we have a four-lane bridge and we are hopeful that discussion about developing the 52 miles between Yankton and Norfolk will open up again."
The Meridian Bridge will become part of a 13-mile loop that will allow walkers and bicyclists to travel a trail that takes them from Yankton through the Gavins Point Dam area and back to Yankton.