By any other name, it will still be the Poplar Street Bridge

News-DemocratOctober 7, 2013 

No sooner did we get past the argument over naming the new Mississippi River bridge than Missouri decided to throw down the naming gauntlet again.

The Missouri legislature has decided to name the Missouri stretch of the Poplar Street Bridge the Congressman William L. Clay Sr. Bridge, who served in Congress from 1969 until 2001, when he was succeeded by his son, U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay.

St. Louis television stations trumpeted the news like it means something.

It took months to resolve the question of whether to name the newest bridge after Stan Musial or veterans. A compromise was reached, probably only because there was an agreement when the bridge was built that the two states had to agree on a name, said Jeff Church of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The Poplar Street Bridge name came from a street in St. Louis that used to run where the bridge approaches now are. Everyone has always called it that.

But there is a lot of misinformation out there. Its official name is the Bernard F. Dickmann Bridge. But official can mean different things. The officials involved in that official naming were the leaders of the city of St. Louis who long ago named part of the bridge after former St. Louis Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann.

They really didn't have any authority to do that but no one really cared. No one much noticed, either.

To this day, no one calls it that.

There used to be a sign on the Missouri side, but nothing on the Illinois side. Even the Missouri sign is long gone.

Illinois just calls it the Poplar Street Bridge and probably won't change, Church said.

Luckily the Illinois legislature is still pretty tied up with all the work they haven't done to fix any of the state's budget and pension crises, so the name is safe here.

Naming it the Clay Bridge (a bridge of clay?) also violates my rule of never naming anything after a politician. Even if we are grateful for what they do, it's their job to do what we need. Besides, they get paid, and pretty well.

Imagine traffic reports mentioning traffic tie-ups on the Clay Bridge. Nobody will have any idea what is going on.

The MoDot weekly report on traffic obstruction still refers to it as the Poplar Street Bridge. So will most people, I think.

It brings to mind the futile effort some years ago to rename the east side of the river East County to link it with West County, North County and South County in St. Louis County.

It's the Poplar Street Bridge. I don't think anyone is going to call it anything different.

Of course, I never thought St. Louisans would call it Interstate 64 when they are actually driving on Highway 40.

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