Astoria-Megler bridge finished early, under budget
October 12, 2023
by the Staff of The Chinook Observer
The latest major work to extend the lifespan of the Astoria-Megler Bridge was recently wrapped up more than a year ahead of schedule and under budget.
The Oregon Department of Transportation estimated this project would take three years, ending in November 2024, and cost about $24.3 million for design and construction. However, ODOT and its contractor finished more than a year ahead of schedule at total cost of about $17.5 million.
“Completing the Astoria-Megler Bridge restoration project ahead of schedule and under budget is a remarkable achievement,” Resident Engineer Jayson Buchholz said. “This not only demonstrates the outstanding dedication of our project team but also showcases our commitment to preserving the rich history and functionality of this iconic bridge.”
Built in 1966, the bridge needed repairs to damaged steel, removal of paint, and repainting with corrosion-resistant paint below the bridge surface. Oregon manages the bridge under a long-term agreement with the state of Washington, which in turn takes care of the next interstate bridge to the east, linking Longview with Rainier, Oregon.
Major work on the bridge began in 2009 thanks in part to federal funds provided to kick start the economy following the Great Recession financial crash. This involved blasting, repairing and re-coating the bridge’s steel components.
“The key to early completion is the contractor, S&K Painting, elected to work year-round rather than take the windy and rainy winter months off,” Buchholz said.
Maintaining such a large bridge in the harsh coastal environment requires constant maintenance. Sometimes major preservation work needs to be done to ensure this vital link between the Oregon and Washington coasts remains open for travelers, as well as goods and services, ODOT said last week.
“It’s a never-ending job to maintain a bridge of this size and in this environment, so maintenance is never-ending,” David House, spokesman for ODOT’s Region 2, told the Observer on Oct. 9. “We do it by sections, and this was one of the bigger pieces. So it’s not an overall victory but an early completion of a significant portion of vital preservation work.”
In addition to its height for ship passage, the bridge stands in the path of unpredictable high winds and the presence of migratory birds using the bridge from March through September. Innovative measures, including the use of light and sound, were employed to deter birds from the working areas — including Astoria-Megler Bridge cormorant relocation, ODOT said.
Those playing a key role in finishing this project early and under budget included Andrew Blower, statewide structure coatings engineer; Orren Jennings, major bridge maintenance engineer; the Preliminary Design Team and the Astoria Resident Engineer Office.
There will be an intermission before the next major maintenance chore. In its design phase now, with construction expected to begin in 2025, this $6.8 million project will fix the bridge’s deteriorated surface near Astoria. Work will include bridge surface repair, a structural inlay and concrete crack sealer.
There will be single-lane traffic with 24-hour flagging during construction.
The Astoria-Megler Bridge, at 21,474 feet or just over four miles, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.
Why is the bridge the color it is? “Oregon Green” was created by Conde McCullough, a famous 20th century bridge engineer. He picked this color because he thought it would go well on the Oregon coast.
McCullough (1887-1946), who in 1919 became the head of the bridge division for ODOT, designed many of the bridges on U.S. Highway 101 along the Oregon coast. He was known for his art deco details and classic Roman arches. (The Yaquina Bay Bridge, built in 1936, is the classic McCullough design.) But as well as his distinctive curving steel arches and Gothic details, his bridges were also identifiable by the unique green paint that he created for them.
Oregon Green actually has an official name — Federal Standard 595-B, color number 24272.
Despite the end of the huge refurbishment project, flaggers remain in place this week for a smaller, short-term job.
“It’s a upkeep under the same contractor warranty from a painting project three or four years ago,” ODOT’s spokesman said. “There may be lane closures for a week or two for that. It’s part of that continual regular maintenance cycle — especially important with paint in a coastal environment.”