Million Dollar Bridge

The Miles Glacier Bridge, also known as the Million Dollar Bridge, was built in the early 1900s fifty miles from Cordova in what is now the U.S. state of Alaska. It is a multiple-span Pennsylvania-truss bridge which completed a 196-mile (315 km) railroad line for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, built by J. P. Morgan and the Guggenheim family to haul copper from the old mining town of Kennicott, now located within the Wrangell - St Elias National Park and Preserve, to the port of Cordova. It earned its nickname because of its $1.4 million cost, well recouped by the about $200 million worth of copper ore which was shipped as a result of its construction.


The Copper River and Northwestern Railway and associated bridges were built between 1906 and 1911. This bridge was the most significant of the group. However, its use as a railroad bridge ended in 1938 when the Copper River and Northwestern Railway shut down.

Work began in the 1950s to convert the old railbed to a road. The bridge was converted in 1958. The over-all work was halted when the bridge, and much of the highway under construction, was damaged by the 1964 Alaska earthquake. One of the bridge spans slipped off its foundation after the earthquake.

The bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.


Temporary repairs, consisting of a rudimentary system of cables, I-beams, and planks, kept the bridge passable. Only about 10 miles (16 km) of four-wheel-drive road had been constructed at the other side of the bridge before the earthquake. Therefore, for two-wheel-drive motorists, the bridge is the end of the road.

The bridge was permanently repaired starting in 2004, and the repaired bridge was dedicated in August 2005. The controversial decision was made to repair it after a severe September 1995 flood caused the bridge to be impassable and also made an eventual washout of debris onto Childs Glacier inevitable. State engineers determined that it was less expensive to repair the bridge than it would be to remove it, or (in a worst-case scenario) clean up if the bridge completely collapsed into the river. Such a cleanup would have been required due to the Copper River salmon runs.

The repairs cost $16 million in federal and $3 million in state tax dollars. "I don't get it," said former Cordova Mayor Kelly Weaverling. "I hear we're going to have to cut old folks' homes and start taxing people in this state, and we're blowing millions of dollars on a bridge that's going to go nowhere. I think it's an incredible waste of money."