Tempe Mill Avenue Bridges

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Tempe Crew
Photo by C. Edward Brice on December 29, 2010. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

A lot has changed since we moved to Tempe, Arizona thirty-three years ago. Back in the day, there was only one Mill Avenue bridge (if you don’t count the railroad bridge just a little further to the west). It was built in 1931 to cross the Salt River. Now, when we came to Tempe, the Salt River had no water in it, because in the early 1900s it was diverted by dams into reservoirs, providing water for the greater Phoenix metropolitan area through canals built along irrigation ditches first engineered by the native Hohokam people almost two thousand years ago. But occasionally, the reservoirs rose too high, and water was released into the river bed.

As the Phoenix area developed and became more populated, the Mill Avenue bridge, only one lane in each direction, was no longer adequate for the flow of traffic. It was decided to to use the existing bridge for southbound traffic, and build a second bridge to the east for northbound travel. Construction started in 1990.

But in 1993, the city experienced a “hundred year flood,” and the Salt River raged. The force of the water tore down scaffolding and concrete forms on the not-yet-completed bridge. Nevertheless, the new bridge was repaired and ready for service in 1994.

Bridges
New bridge on the left, old bridge on the right.

The new bridge is decorated with a symbol also found on the Arizona state flag:

Mill Ave Bridge

In 1999, an area of the riverbed was dammed to create Tempe Town Lake. The artificial lake is the centerpiece of a development project that includes corporate offices and high-rise apartment buildings. Residents and visitors can use the lake for paddle boarding, rowing, kayaking, and urban fishing.

Rowing

I wish I’d had the foresight to come out here twenty years ago and photograph what the skyline of Tempe looked like with all the quaint old historic buildings that used to be visible from the shore. Now the modern high-rises dominate the landscape.

But I captured a picture of the old Hayden Flour Mill and silos, built in 1911. It’s the tall white building below:

Hayden Mill

In the picture below, four bridges are visible–the underside of the new bridge, the old bridge, and beyond it, the Phoenix Light Rail bridge, and a railroad bridge:

Bridges

The Light Rail bridge opened in 2008:

Light Rail bridge
Phoenix Light Rail trains on bridge.

A better view of the railroad bridge, built in 1915 and damaged in 2020 when a train derailed and burned:

Railroad bridge

Exposed wooden ties on the underside of the railroad bridge:

Underside of railroad bridge

A little further west, a pedestrian bridge by the Tempe Center for the Arts (below, left):

Tempe Center for the Arts

Swallows built nests on the underside of the old Mill Avenue Bridge. I didn’t see any swallows.

Swallow nests under the bridge

One final view of the old Mill Avenue Bridge, with Tempe Butte (“A” Mountain) almost completely obscured in the background.

Mill Ave Bridge

Except for the first photo, all images in this article by ARHuelsenbeck.

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