The Bridge's History
The Rockville Bridge was built in 1924 at the direction of the National Park Service.
Zion National Park had been created five years earlier in a remote corner of south-
western Utah and the Park Service wanted to encourage visitors. It was modern times and people were now using automobiles to get around the country so a plan was made to link the regional National Parks and Monuments of Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Pipe Springs, Grand Canyon and the rail head at Cedar City, Utah together in a road network.
It was decided to have the route connecting Zion with the Grand Canyon cross the Virgin River in the little town of Rockville, located a few miles south and west of the Park entrance, follow a new cut-off road to be built around Smithsonian Butte, and then connect with the existing road to Pipe Springs and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. A bridge was needed to cross the river and for that the Park Service allocated $40,000 (about $550,000 in today's dollars) for construction.
The design was for a 220 foot single span steel bridge of the type known as a Parker Through Truss (sometimes called a Camelback Truss) with a wooden deck roadway. The steel components were fabricated by the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company, shipped by rail to Cedar City and then trucked to Rockville. The C.F. Dinsmore Company from Ogden, Utah was contracted to assemble the bridge and by late October they were laying steel across the river. The finished bridge with its new coat of green paint was dedicated on December 13th in a day long celebration with hundreds of people and dignitaries present. Activities included dinner served on tables set up on the bridge and a rope climbing contest to the highest point on the bridge and back down which was won with a time of seven seconds.
Soon the bridge was being crossed by tourists in automobiles going to Zion National Park and by 1926 there was a fleet of touring buses running between Cedar City and the Parks with departures daily from each location. All this traffic across the bridge continued until 1930 when the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway and tunnel was completed. This new all-weather road was an easier and more direct route to take and soon the Rockville Bridge was only lightly used by what little local traffic there was.
Today the green paint is mostly gone from the Rockville Bridge, replaced by a patina of rust that is its now familiar color, but the bridge is in use more than ever. The town of Rockville has grown to occupy both sides of the Virgin River and the bridge is the only way across. People from all over the world come to see Zion National Park and the surrounding area and are likely to visit the ghost town of Grafton, mountain bike and camp on Gooseberry Mesa, hike the Eagle Crags Trail, or just go exploring – all involving a trip over the Rockville Bridge.
The Bridge's Future
The Rockville Bridge is 91 years old now and is showing its age. Continuing heavy use and more than a little neglect have taken their toll. The Utah Department of Transportation's inspection of the bridge in 2012 revealed such deterioration that the bridge's load rating was reduced from 25 to 14 tons and the Town of Rockville was put on notice that “something” needed to be done about the bridge.
That “something” was that the then-Mayor of Rockville applied for Federal funding for a new two-lane steel and concrete girder bridge to be built next to the historical bridge. Early in 2013 the Utah Joint Highway Committee that administers the funding awarded the Town $3,200,000 for this project.
Many people in the Town of Rockville and the surrounding area were unhappy with this news. The feeling was that a large modern bridge built next to the old bridge would severely disrupt setting its historical setting. A movement soon formed with the goal of restoring the old bridge to a condition that would regain the higher load rating it needed and also give it a long enough life extension so that a second bridge at that location would not be needed. This desire to keep the Rockville Bridge in service as a working historical bridge was shared by the newly elected Mayor of Rockville and the Town Council and they lead an effort to make a serious restoration of the Rockville Bridge a reality.
In the Spring of 2015 the Town of Rockville contracted the Michael Baker International civil engineering company to do a detailed analysis of the bridge to - as they put it: “determine the feasibility, cost, and long-term performance of the existing bridge under a rehabilitation scenario.” The Mayor of Rockville and a representative of the Michael Baker company petitioned the Joint Highway Committee to change the scope of the Rockville Bridge Project to a rehabilitation at their meeting in September of 2015 and this was rejected by the Committee.
In April of 2016 the Joint Highway Committee met in St. George, Utah where the Mayor of Rockville once again made the case for a change in the scope of the project to the Non-Urban Technical Subcommittee. This meeting was very well-attended by an audience overwhelmingly supporting the rehabilitation of the bridge and after much discussion of the issue the Sub-Committee agreed with the Town's proposal. The Joint Highway Committee allocated $2,500,000 for the Rockville Bridge to be rehabilitated - with the condition that the Town submit a plan for an alternate route for a new road and bridge to cross the Virgin River at another location.
In March of 2017 the Town of Rockville finished raising the matching funds required for the Federal funding of the bridge restoration project. The project is scheduled to get underway in October of 2017.Updated: April 8, 2017