From the very beginning, engineers have faced daunting obstacles in attempting to construct bridges that would withstand the unrelentingly harsh environmental conditions of salt air, tidal currents, storms, and coastal winds that are present at the Indian River Inlet.
In 1934, the first bridge to cross the inlet was built with timber from a plant in Newport. The wood materials quickly deteriorated in the marine environment.
In 1938 and 1952, two concrete and steel swing bridges were built. Both were damaged by ice flow. It was in 1940, that the bridge was named for Charles W. Cullen, the Chairman of Commissioners for the State Highway Commission (later named the State Highway Department).
In 1965, a steel-girder bridge was built and then widened in 1976. Concrete piers supported by steel pilings in the inlet endured decades of harsh weather and heavy tidal currents. Over the years, these currents severely scoured the inlet channel-bed creating massive holes 100 feet deep. This ultimately threatened the future stability of the bridge.
In 2008, design and construction began on the new bridge. Weather remained a significant factor during this time as historic storms impacted construction with icy conditions, extreme cold, blizzards, heavy rains, floods, dune breaches, and constant winds. Despite these challenges, workers persevered and the bridge was opened to traffic in 2012.
Today's engineers learned many lessons from previous bridge builders. The new bridge completely spans the inlet and allows for further widening of the inlet without subjecting the new bridge's foundations to the waterway. By using materials and construction details that focused on the need for durability, the new bridge is expected to last more than 100 years.