Natchez Trace and Its Award-Winning Bridge

Natchez Trace Bridge
photo by Mark S. Lucas, Sr.

The Natchez Trace Parkway has a history that spans 10,000 years. It follows a trail that was used by the original Paleo-Indians as they tracked mastodon for food, and then those who came next. The path runs from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi and was used for commerce by early settlers who floated their farm goods down to New Orleans, then took the road back. What we know now as the parkway was started in 1938, but not completed until 2005. The most stunning part of the drive is the 37-foot-wide,165-foot-tall, and 1,648-foot-long bridge over Highway 96 West.

Built between 1992 and 1994, according to the 2017 story “The Natchez Trace Parkway at Highway 96 West” by Chuck Lynch, the bridge earned a 1995 Presidential Award for Design Excellence, a 1996 Award of Merit from the Federal Highway Administration, and it was named the single most outstanding achievement for the industry at the eleventh annual International Bridge Conference. According to Wikipedia, it is a concrete double arch bridge, and the first segmentally constructed concrete arch bridge in the United States.

The cantilever design was used to minimize environmental impact. It was created by Figg Engineering Group and built by PCL Civil Constructors Inc. It is a construction marvel, and according to Greggory Eggleston on the Facebook group If You Grew Up in Franklin, You Remember, this bridge has become part of the mechanical engineering curriculum for a lot of schools.

On the same Facebook page, Donny Bennett and Kenneth Clark both talk about working for Williamson County Ready Mix during its construction.

“We poured all of the concrete … at the ready mix plant,” said Clark. “[T]hey set up forms and poured the concrete, then hauled them and set them in place with a crane. It amazes me that it is held in place by glue, cables and pressure.”

Bill Peach’s brother operated the crane that built it. “When he came on,” said Peach on the Facebook group, “there was one foundation and two sections of concrete and he hung the rest of it. One day he called me and told me the bridge was safe to cross. I asked if he was sure. He then told me he had driven the crane across it.”

Thousands have crossed over the bridge ever since. It is a gateway to many journeys whether you drive the entire 444 miles, or hug the curves on your Harley on a weekend day trip. The drive is relaxing, and along the way, there is much natural beauty.

For those wanting to experience a step back in time to the age of Paleo-Indians, the Sunken Trace offers ramblers just that. Located at milepost 41. 5, the soil has eroded due to thousands of these travelers walking the trail over thousands of years. Other stops, managed by the National Park Service, offer views of waterfalls, gorgeous vistas, and places for a picnic. Or just stand on the bridge and look out over the fertile valley below.

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Lee Rennick has an extensive background in marketing, advertising, public relations, and workforce and community development. An information omnivore, she has written articles about everything from ballet shoes to interior design, to some of the newest local scientific research, two plays, and copy for an Addy Award winning hot sauce label.