Rio Puerco Bridge
Rio Puerco, New Mexico
The Rio Puerco Bridge is located off of and parallel to
Interstate 40 at exit 140 west of Albuquerque, NM. A post-1937
alignment of Route 66, now used as a frontage road, is east of
the bridge and reconnects with the interstate at exit 149.
Visitors can walk across the bridge.
Heading west out of Albuquerque on Route 66, travelers can enjoy
a scenic descent from Nine Mile Hill into the Rio Puerco Valley,
where a Parker through truss bridge crosses the steeply eroded
banks of the Rio Puerco River. The valley is the site of Laguna
Pueblo, the home of Puebloans since the 1300s. Because the Rio
Puerco is known for its violent flooding and severe erosion, the
State Highway Department specifically chose a Parker through
truss bridge design for the Rio Puerco Bridge to eliminate the
need for a center pier and prevent washouts.
Government funded the bridge in 1933 as part of President
Roosevelt’s effort to use emergency monies for highway
construction. Completed within a year, the bridge opened the
Laguna Cutoff to transcontinental traffic. In 1937, the
alignment officially became U.S. Route 66.The Kansas City
Structural Steel Company conceived the structure, and F.D.
Shufflebarger was in charge of constructing the bridge. The Rio
Puerco Bridge has a 250 foot long span and is one of the longest
single span steel truss bridges built in New Mexico.
bridge consists of 10 panels measuring 25 feet in length, each
with its top cord at a different angle, as is characteristic of
Parker truss design bridges. The 25-foot wide deck is concrete
with an asphalt surface and rests on steel stringers. This
design was selected partially because it was commonly used
during the late-1920s and 30s, but also because it was
particularly suitable for this bridge, which needed to withstand
a river capable of massive flooding that had washed away
previous bridges along the Rio Puerco.
In 1957, the
truss was remodeled, and the lower portal struts were removed
and replaced by lighter struts that were inserted above to
create a higher clearance. Metal guardrails were added to
protect the truss members. This bridge served motorists on Route
66 for many years, and when I-40 was completed, the Rio Puerco
Bridge became part of a frontage road across the Rio Puerco.
The structure was listed in the National Register of
Historic Places in 1997. In 1999, the New Mexico State Highway
and Transportation Department replaced it but preserved the
historic bridge. Though currently closed to car traffic, the old
bridge is open for people to walk across, allowing visitors a
glimpse of the old Highway 66 slowly curving and dipping as it
disappears into the vast New Mexico desert.