The two bridges across the Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau -- one a complete span, the other almost connected from Illinois to Missouri -- are a study in contrasts.
A motorist can cross the 75-year-old bridge, with its bumpy deck and rust-marked structure, and gaze a short distance to the south to see the modern version.
Where the old bridge is narrow, the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge is roomy. (It hasn't been unusual for vehicles to get stuck against each other while traveling in opposite directions across the old bridge.) Where the old bridge has angular pieces of metal bolted together, the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge has sleek cables and towering piers.
The new bridge is a rising supermodel, the old one her dowdy grandmother.
The figures associated with the new bridge are astonishing. The cost: upward of $100 million. When complete, it will contain 243.7 million pounds of concrete, 13 million pounds of reinforced steel, 15 million pounds of steel girders and 171 miles of cable.
And, since the groundbreaking in 1996, we've watched as it has come together, bit by bit. We saw the piers rising from the muddy water, the spans slowly reaching out to touch each other, the cables falling into place, one after the other.
Now we have the Missouri Department of Transportation's announcement of a planned completion date before the end of the year, certainly a welcome bit of news.
While the old bridge is slated for destruction, the new bridge will become even more beautiful after it is finished.
That's because Cape Girardeau visionaries Nelson Ringer, an ophthalmologist, and John Layton, a lawyer, realized even before the first construction worker reported to the job site that the new bridge should be lit up at night.
The two led a committee that quickly acted to raise money for that vision. After receiving a federal grant for $400,000 toward the lighting, the chamber sold art prints of the bridge, a work titled "Eastern Access," to raise the remaining $110,000. They also allowed people to purchase lights for themselves or loved ones. Two large plaques on the western side of the bridge will bear the names of donors or of people now deceased whose relatives purchased a light to honor them.
The project sounds grand. Thousand-watt lights will illuminate the 300-foot towers. Smaller, 400-watt lights will be base-mounted on the side of the bridge to shine upward, illuminating the 128 cables sustaining the bridge.
All the lights have been spoken for, a testament to the appreciation Cape Girardeau residents have for their new bridge.
And now we eagerly await the day the bridge is illuminated for all to see.