MENLO – Work on the new Route 6 bridge over the Willapa River near Menlo is on target to meet deadline with about three-quarters of the project near completion. The bridge has long been considered a critical east-west route between Interstate 5 and the Southwest Washington coast.
Abbi Russell, communication manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation for the Southwest Region 7 took time from a busy day last week to give the Herald the latest update on the project.
The cost of the project is $6.3 million and it is due to be completed this fall. The project was started last summer. The project is funded by the 2005 gas tax and other state highway-improvement funds.
“We're headed towards opening the bridge to new traffic this month,” Russell informed. “Right now, we're testing to make sure the concrete has enough strength. It has to to cure to a certain strength.
“Our target is to be completely finished by late summer and be open to traffic, but the project will not be finished until the fall,” Russell said. “There will be one lane traffic at least through June. And the, we still have deal with the demolition of the old structure.”
The bridge was originally built in 1929. so it's obviously old and out of date for today's traffic flow.
“It's just old – an aging structure that is 85-years-old,” Russell said. “Did you know that Hoover was president when it was finished. That was the year that the stock market crashed. That bridge was not built to last 85 years; it just did. It's time for this one to be replaced. It had a healthful, useful life. It's functionally obsolete because it does not meet the needs of current traffic. At 22-feet wide, it is too narrow to accommodate the types and number of vehicles that cross it today. When it was built, Model Ts were driving over it...not huge log trucks, chip trucks, and semis.”
Also. the old bridge also does not meet current federal seismic, flood, or structural standards.
Despite it's age and the longevity that that dinosaur bridge served, Russell said, “It's not dangerously close to collapsing. We looked at it and we have a really rigorously bridge inspection program.”
Russell it's important to maintain and/or replace all bridges in the Evergreen State. No one wants a catastrophe like what happened to the Skagit Bridge last summer, or worse yet, what happened in Minnesota in August 2007 when the I-35 West Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. It was reopened again until September 18, 2008, Russell informed.
“It was originally built with a very narrow old style that doesn't support the needs of today's traffic,” Russell said. “We've basically built a brand new bridge 12 feet away from the old one. It won't have a super structure. Essentially, the best practice now is to build a structure with steel girders (long blocks of steel that is pre-stressed, also called post-tensioning). The girders range from 75 to 125 feet long. After the girders were in place and secured, crews worked during the winter to build the 275-foot-long bridge deck.
“This project replaces the existing bridge with a new, wider structure with 12-foot lanes and 6-foot shoulders,” Russell explained. “The new bridge will help improve safety and increase mobility. The new bridge will be 36-feet wide.”