Sen. Jeff Wilson calls for hearing: Time to replace Lewis and Clark Bridge?

Emergency closure raises concern about 94-year-old structure

Lewis and Clark Bridge, Longview. Credit: Cacophony/ CC 3.0

Sen. Jeff Wilson is calling for a legislative hearing on the condition and future of the Lewis and Clark bridge at Longview following its emergency closure this week to repair a fractured floor beam.

The Longview Republican says it’s time for a solid assessment of the bridge’s lifespan and its possible replacement. There are no plans at present to replace the vintage-1929 steel cantilever structure, which serves 20,000 vehicles a day. Wilson says he wonders how long it can last.

“I realize all attention right now is going to the replacement of the Interstate Bridge at Vancouver,” Wilson said. “The oldest portion of the Vancouver bridge opened 106 years ago. The bridge at Longview isn’t that much newer – it is 94 years old. If we are not thinking about bridge replacement, we need to consider what we need to do over the long term to keep it open.”

Wilson is urging the Senate Transportation Committee to hold a hearing on the condition of the Lewis and Clark Bridge after planned repair work this year has been completed. The bridge is scheduled for a six-day closure this spring or summer to replace aging finger joints, also known as expansion joints. Closure dates have not yet been announced.

Wilson said the reconstruction will give the state Department of Transportation a chance to examine the bridge closely for other needed repairs. Agency officials believe the fracture in the beam that forced the emergency closure may have been caused by a nearby expansion joint scheduled for replacement.

However, Wilson said he remains concerned about the bridge’s long-term health. He was contacted by a constituent last year who noticed bent diagonal beams on the underside of the bridge, as well as fallen concrete shards on the ground. DOT investigated and determined stress on the diagonals was another symptom of the expansion joint problem that will be addressed in the upcoming project.

“I know bridges can last a long time if they are kept in good repair,” Wilson said. “The crossing at Longview is so important to our community that we need to watch it like a hawk. We can’t let maintenance slip. I’m glad we are being proactive and dealing with these problems before they become big ones. But we should ask ourselves, what is it going to take over the long haul, and should we be thinking about a new bridge at some point, just like our neighbors in Vancouver?”