PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Washington State Department of Transportation said the Lewis and Clark Bridge that connects Longview, Wash. to Rainier, Ore. is safe to drive on, but the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments said if it had the funding, it would take a closer look. 

The bridge has become a hot topic of discussion in Southwest Washington after Longview resident Amund “Rocky” Taylor shared photos of bent beams on the bridge on Facebook in late September. He fears the bridge isn’t safe to use and could be at risk of collapse.  

The Washington State Department of Transportation said crews spent 100 hours inspecting the bridge in February 2022 and said it is 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 is aware pieces of the bridge have been bending in the past few years and has noted them during maintenance checks and inspections. Officials determined the flexing of secondary bracing is due to failing expansion joints. 

It said a joint replacement project will take place in the spring or summer of 2023, but right now, the joints aren’t impacting the bridge’s ability to safely serve the public. 

During the joint replacement project, users should be prepared for the bridge to be closed for six days. 

  • Are the twisted beams on the Lewis and Clark Bridge a safety concern?
  • Are the twisted beams on the Lewis and Clark Bridge a safety concern?
  • Are the twisted beams on the Lewis and Clark Bridge a safety concern?

While this news from state officials is reassuring, local authorities say it doesn’t address the fact that the bridge is 92 years old and might be due for a replacement or significant renovation. 

The Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments, a joint governmental agency composed of local governments in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties and the city of Rainier, said it would like to do a preliminary study to initiate the process of planning for a new bridge. 

However, the project is currently unfunded. 

The council of governments plans to submit applications to possible funding sources in early 2023. 

If the planning study is approved and funded, Bill Fashing, executive director of the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments, said it would explore the long-term needs for freight and passenger traffic; identify proposed bridge capacity and congestion issues and needs; consider the overall framework of the project, including the road network supporting the bridge at the existing and any alternative site; and include an initial environmental review of the existing site and any additional sites that may be considered for a new bridge. 

“The work would also identify next steps and an initial timeline to move the effort forward. A new bridge will likely take ten to twenty years or more to come to fruition,” Fashing wrote in an email to KOIN 6 News. 

Washington Sen. Jeff Wilson, a Republican who represents Wahkiakum County and part of Cowlitz County, said he’s heard concerns from Taylor about the bridge. He said any and all concerns of this nature are important to him. 

After learning about the bent beams, he contacted WSDOT and was also reassured that the bridge is safe to use and that the bending beams are the result of the finger joints. WSDOT told him the beams are doing their job. 

Wilson contacted Fashing and requested a study on the 92-year-old bridge. 

“The Lewis and Clark Bridge is a critical link and it’s time we look at it,” he said. “I don’t know if any bridge can live forever and that’s a conversation we need to have.” 

For now, Wilson said he trusts WSDOT’s inspection and is confident it’s safe, but he’ll still push for and request funding in the legislature to support the Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments’ planning project. He hopes this will make it a more urgent priority. 

Overall, Wilson said he’s glad these discussions are starting now and hopes it means that if more does need to be done to the bridge, it will be done sooner rather than later. 

The Cowlitz Wahkiakum Council of Governments said it will work with WSDOT, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other local public agencies and businesses in the planning process. 

So far, the project is only a planning process and does not involve any engineering or structural analysis of the existing structure.