Kevin Magee-Chance of a Lifetime

As a kid, Delta native Kevin Magee liked to play with erector sets. Now he’s leading the team that will complete an incredible new bridge spanning the Mississippi River.
Valerie Fraser Luesse

Kevin Magee stands on the Arkansas bank of the Mississippi River, looking across the churning muddy water at an incredible engineering feat. As a district engineer for the new U.S. 82 Greenville Bridge spanning the Mississippi, Kevin is leading the team that will complete one of the longest bridge spans on the river. The soaring new four-lane, cable-stayed bridge, which was begun in 2001 and is projected to open in 2010, is absolutely stunning. Compared to it, the old 1940 bridge looks like an Erector Set model. Long, steep, and narrow, with only two lanes, the 1940 bridge can scare the daylights out of you if you aren't used to it. Kevin loves it.

"I remember playing with Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets as a kid and traveling over the old bridge," he says. "I asked my parents what I had to be to get to build things like that. They told me a civil engineer. It's just dumb luck that the bridge that made me want to be an engineer--that I get to be part of the team building its replacement."

Though the 1940 bridge was a marvel in its time, he says, it can no longer keep pace with traffic--on land or water. Because it's positioned near a sharp bend in the river, barges have trouble rounding that curve and then quickly straightening their course to safely clear the center supports. Kevin points to one of the huge pillars holding up the bridge. "That piece has sunk more barges and done more damage to the towing industry than any chunk of concrete in the country," he explains.

The rich alluvial soil from the river that makes The Delta also makes bridge building a challenge. "You don't get to bedrock in The Delta," Kevin explains. "There is no bedrock here."

About half of the new bridge is underground, so for a long time, Greenville residents couldn't see any progress on the site. "When the bridge started rising out of the water, locals said, 'Well, they're finally getting busy!'" Kevin remembers with a grin. He said he's especially proud of the young engineers who've had the chance to work on the bridge because "they'll never be intimidated by any project they encounter in the future."

What truly makes the Greenville Bridge so special for Kevin is not just its importance, but its location. "To get an opportunity like this is the chance of a lifetime," he says. "To get an opportunity like this, in the place where you grew up, happens once in several lifetimes."