SR 6 Willapa River Bridge: Past and Present

Crews are building a brand-new, wider SR 6 Willapa
River Bridge next to the existing, 84-year-old bridge.
By guest blogger Abbi Russell

1929 was a heavy year. It was the year Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as President, the year that saw a catastrophic stock market crash and the first inklings of the Great Depression. It was the first year of the Academy Awards. 7-Up was invented that year, as well as the first car radio.

We can thank 1929 for bringing us Anne Frank, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Grace Kelly, Bob Newhart, Audrey Hepburn and Arnold Palmer (the golfer, not the confused beverage).

One other less glamorous but interesting fact about 1929: It was the year we opened a brand-new bridge carrying State Route 6 over the Willapa River.

The steel truss bridge, located near Menlo in Pacific County, was built using the most advanced engineering and materials of the day. But now, 84 years later, it’s time to say goodbye to early twentieth century construction and hello to the future.

We are replacing the Willapa River Bridge with a wider, more modern structure designed for today’s traffic and structural standards.  Next week, our contractor hits a major milestone as crews set 12 girders to span 275 feet across the Willapa River. Once the girders are set, crews will start deck construction with the aim of finishing and opening the new bridge to traffic in fall 2014.

The new bridge won’t have a graceful superstructure arching overhead; it will be a relatively plain structure with two 12-foot lanes of smooth, grey concrete. But it will carry two log trucks side-by-side, something the narrow 1929 structure struggles with. It will be built to survive earthquakes and floods, something we can’t guarantee with the 84-year-old bridge. And, with good care, it will last at least 50 years.

That’s where the old bridge is an overachiever – it has served drivers for 84 years, even though it wasn’t intended to. The new structure could last that long, and who knows? In another 84 years, maybe another young writer will marvel at the passage of time and the strength of those old and faithful structures.