PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Some of the metal supports on the Lewis and Clark Bridge that spans the Columbia River between Rainier and Longview are not the straight rods they used to be. Instead, they’re starting to warp and people traveling across the bridge have noticed.
Longview resident Amund “Rocky” Taylor posted pictures of the twisted beams to Facebook where many people wondered if the bridge was safe to use.
Taylor said he has some serious concerns about the bridge’s safety. He fears it could collapse at any time and has been passing out flyers to let his neighbors know about the warped beams he’s noticed on the bridge. In one area on the Washington side, he said he’s seen six beams bending.
He’s also worried because he can see the beams moving as cars drive across the bridge.
Taylor has contacted state Sen. Jeff Wilson and the Washington Department of Transportation about his concerns. He feels the situation isn’t being taken seriously.
“We have to yell fire. If we don’t yell fire in a burning building, you’ll die,” he said.
Taylor sees the work that’s being done to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Portland and Vancouver and wishes that sort of urgency would be applied to the Lewis and Clark Bridge.
KOIN 6 News contacted the Washington State Department of Transportation to ask if people should be worried about the bridge.
WSDOT replied saying the Lewis and Clark Bridge is currently safe and open with no restrictions.
Kelly Hanahan, assistant communications manager for WSDOT, said the bent pieces of the bridge shown in the circulated photos are part of a secondary, lateral bracing system and are not part of the primary, vertical columns that support the bridge.
WSDOT has noted the bending pieces of the bridge in the past few years during maintenance checks and inspections and determined the flexing of the secondary bracing is due to failing expansion joints.
“With careful consideration to the bridge design, WSDOT has determined that the flexing of the secondary bracing is due to failing expansion joints. The joints, when functioning properly allow the bridge to expand and contract without resistance. When the joints are unable to move as designed, expansion and contraction of the bridge pushes on the towers and the bracing members flex,” Hanahan explained.
When the weather is cooler, the flexing diminishes, but in warmer weather, it’s more noticeable.
WSDOT said the noted flexing and bending in the secondary members is important enough to schedule the joint replacement, but right now it is not impacting the bridge’s ability to safely serve the public.
The north expansion joint will be replaced in the spring or summer of 2023 and bridge users should be prepared for a six-day closure.
“This work ensures the joints function properly, allows the bridge to expand and contract naturally with changes in temperature, and provides for the rest of the bridge to function as designed for continued service,” Hanahan said.
Taylor said that the work WSDOT has planned doesn’t make him feel any more comfortable about the state of the bridge. He’d like to see serious work done on the bridge’s foundation, or a complete replacement.
“This bridge is not a priority and it should be the highest priority,” he said.
The Columbia River Lewis and Clark Bridge was constructed in 1929 and received rehabilitation in 2003, WSDOT said. It is inspected every two years and the last inspection was conducted in February of 2022. WSDOT crews spent 100 hours examining it. The bridge also receives and underwater inspection every five years.