An overlooked bridge remnant at Tempe Beach Park last carried traffic in 1931, left to crumble for generations as nobody figured out what to do with the abandoned stub.
But a project is beginning to transform the century-old bridge abutment into a veterans memorial unlike anything in Arizona today. The old Ash Avenue Bridge segment is the first part of a roughly $2 million memorial that Tempe and the Rio Salado Foundation broke ground on Friday in honor of Veterans Day.
Within about four months, the bridge will become a new overlook for a plaza below. Over time, the long-closed section of Ash Avenue that leads to the bridge will be lined with 80 laser-cut steel panels. Each features a silhouette that depicts veterans from every military branch in U.S. history.
Tempe has tossed around memorial ideas for nearly 20 years but this project got traction five years ago, said Brad Wilde, a board member of the Rio Salado Foundation.
“This is not a Tempe memorial,” Wilde said. “This is an Arizona memorial honoring all the men and women who have served this great state in the armed forced, every branch and service.”
The city and the foundation are still raising funds to complete the project. The next phase will add the steel panels on both sides of a 525-long path leading to the bridge abutment.
“It should be breathtaking when complete,” Mayor Hugh Hallman said.
David Lucier, president of the Arizona Veterans Association, said he expects the final two phases of the memorial will take 18 to 24 months to complete.
“This is going to be the finest veterans memorial outside of Washington, D.C.,” Lucier said.
The memorial is in a park that is already home to the city’s Veterans Day Parade and the Healing Field display, which includes 3,000 flags to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
And the bridge work will highlight a neglected bit of Valley history. Construction began on the Ash bridge in 1911, built by prison labor in Arizona’s final days as a territory. It was nearly obsolete when it opened in 1913 because the narrow span was designed more for wagons and couldn’t handle two lanes of traffic.
The bridge closed to vehicles when the Mill Avenue Bridge opened in 1931. The bridge required expensive repairs as years passed because of subpar design and workmanship. Rather than repair it, Tempe decided to demolish it in 1991. The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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