By Steve Elliott / ADOT Communications
Back in the 1930s, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks created a major bottleneck for vehicles using what was then US 87 through Winslow. Enter the Arizona Highway Department, which later became ADOT, and a project that created a grade separation known as the Winslow Underpass or Williamson Avenue Underpass.
The finest details surrounding the December 1936 dedication of this structure made for front-page coverage in the Winslow Mail, including an account headlined "Underpass Dedication Plans Set" from a couple weeks before the big day: More than 75 invitations to attend the underpass dedication on December 15 have been mailed out by (sic) prominent men of the state by Walter Lindblom, secretary of the chamber of commerce. Included in the list are 30 Santa Fe officials, from President Bledsoe, to the high officials in the west.
City Engineer Frank R. Goodman, chairman of the event, promised a more detailed program within the week, according to the article, which added that elected leaders had authorized Goodman "to arrange for rental of sufficient lumber to erect a speaker's stand."It is practically assured that the state engineer and all members of the highway commission will attend, as it was at their request that the dedication was delayed two weeks.
In case you were wondering about the entertainment, Goodman delivered "definite assurance" that school bands and the Sons of the American Legion bugle corps would participate.
It's now State Route 87 running under the tracks in Winslow, and those tracks now carry BNSF Railway trains. But the Winslow Underpass remains essential for travelers and the community as well as an important part of Arizona's transportation history.
According to ADOT's Arizona Historic Bridge Inventory
, pages 510-513 to be exact, funding for the underpass came from the Hayden-Cartwright Act, a New Deal relief program from which quite a bit of money went toward eliminating hazardous at-grade railroad crossings. The report says Highway Department engineers designed it as a two-span reinforced concrete rigid-frame structure with mission-style architectural treatment. Here are the specs:
The call for bids went out in April 1936, and R.C. Tanner Construction Co. received the $150,000 contract. The contractor recruited much of the required labor – 70,000 man-hours in all – from the relief rolls, fulfilling one of the project's goals: putting people to work during the Great Depression. It took almost 300 cubic yards of concrete and 360,000 pounds of reinforcing steel to complete the underpass.
According to the Arizona Historic Bridge Inventory, the structure's pierced parapet walls and other details, shown in the 1930s photo at right from the State Archives
, reflect an architectural style Highway Department engineers used for a number of grade separations. Those include Tucson's Stone Avenue Underpass, also completed in 1936. Engineers used distinctive architectural treatments to complement their surroundings.
That Winslow Mail article from 1936 doesn't say why the Highway Department and Highway Commission asked to push back the Winslow Underpass dedication by two weeks. But the delay obviously didn't put a damper on excitement surrounding an improvement that continues paying dividends today.