Birmingham’s 102 year old Rainbow Bridge closing to motorists because of safety concerns

Rainbow viaduct
Birmingham’s Rainbow Viaduct on Richard Arrington Blvd. The memorial honors a WW I infantry troop. from Birmingham. (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

The Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. Bridge or what is also known as the “Rainbow Bridge” in downtown Birmingham will be closed to motorists beginning Friday, January 21st at 6:00AM.

The condition of the century-old bridge connecting First Avenue South to First Avenue North on what was once 21st Street has deteriorated over time and is one of the lowest rated bridges in the state, according to a city of Birmingham news release. 

The city has regularly monitored the condition of the bridge and in 2019 launched an awareness campaign, adding more signage concerning the bridge’s 3-ton weight limit and increased police patrols. The intent of the effort was to reduce damage to the structure. The continued lack of compliance with the weight limit has led to the city’s decision to close the bridge to vehicles.

A Little History

Rainbow viaduct
Birmingham’s Rainbow Viaduct on Richard Arrington Blvd. The memorial honors a WW I infantry troop. from Birmingham. (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

According to Bhamwiki, the nearly 103 year old bridge was formally dedicated on May 19, 1919.  At the time, the bridge was the first major connection between downtown and Southside completed within the city. The viaduct is dedicated to the decorated veterans of the 167th Infantry Regiment who fought as part of the “Rainbow Division” during World War I.  There are a pair of small memorials at the center of the bridge, topped with eagles, carrying plaques honoring those veterans.

Pedestrians, Bike and Scooters Are OK

Even though motorists and heavy trucks will be prohibited on the bridge beginning January 21st,  pedestrians, cyclists and scooters are allowed to use the bridge.  The city has determined such use is safe. 

Alternative Routes — What’s Next

Motorists can access downtown from the south by using alternative routes via 20th and 24th Streets. 

Be mindful, travelers may experience additional detours and slowdowns on Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd (21st Street) near 10th Avenue over the next month because of the demolition of Quinlan Castle.

The city’s Department of Transportation has hired a firm which is midway through the design phase of a replacement for the bridge. The city is also considering funding options for the replacement. Once a design plan is complete, the public will have the opportunity to review the design.

Do you have any stories about the “Rainbow Bridge?”  Tell us on social media by tagging @bhamnow 

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2009