Historic Arch Bridge, closed for nearly 2 years, reopens Monday

Historic Arch Bridge, closed for nearly 2 years, reopens Monday
The celebration of the re-opening of the Arch Bridge began on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 with a number of events, including a marching band. KATU photo.

OREGON CITY, Ore. -- It's been nearly two years since people have been able to travel over the Oregon City/West Linn Arch Bridge.

But after 22 months of constant work on the bridge that cost $14.6 million, the source of community pride since 1922 will re-open Monday and officials are pulling out all the stops to celebrate its re-opening.

The bridge, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, will officially re-open Monday at 5 a.m. Drivers will see a new roadway, sidewalks, railings, pylons and replica historic lighting, along with a fresh new coat of grey paint.

However, those are merely the cosmetic changes that were implemented. After 88 years of constant traffic on the bridge, officials realized the bridge needed to be repaired. Once the bridge was closed, crews either repaired or replaced several components, including the deck, joints, rails, lighting and a protective coating of the arch span.

ODOT and other agencies will celebrate the bridge's re-opening on Oct. 14, part of a weekend-long celebration. The bridge opening event starts at 2 p.m. at the Oregon City end of the bridge and will include brief speeches by ODOT Director Matt Garrett, the mayors of Oregon City and West Linn, representatives from the Federal Highway Administration and Wildish Standard Paving, the construction firm. Officials will also dedicate two time capsules with local items inside.

A parade of historic cars, made from 1915-1932, will be the first vehicles to travel across the bridge. The parade will also include bicyclists and pedestrians who have been riders on the bridge shuttle, which will officially close late Sunday night.

Although, the bridge will be open to traffic, the contractor will continue working on the bridge and has until March 31, 2013 to complete all the work. Works crews will continue to work under the bridge deck, which means intermittent lane closures will be necessary. These closures will usually take place at night but an occasional daytime lane closure may occur, officials said.

The bridge re-opening will also serve as a unique chance for couples to re-new their wedding vows. It will commemorate the Dec. 28, 1922 ceremony on the bridge that saw West Linn's Ella Averta Parker marry Oregon City's Louis E. Hartke Jr. during the first dedication of the bridge.

Officials said couples will meet at the nearby Pacific Crest Grand Ballroom in Oregon City to rehearse. From there, couples will all walk together in a processional to the bridge for the 1 p.m. ceremony conducted by Beverly Mason, Radiant Touch Weddings, and to the sounds of the Willamette Falls Symphony Brass Ensemble.

After the ceremony and the bridge re-opening event, there will be a 3 p.m. reception back at the ballroom where the celebration will continue.
 
On Oct. 13, the Museum of the Oregon Territory will host a celebration of the bridge re-opening. At 11 a.m., the public can meet Judy Fleagle, co-author of “Crossings,” a book that that explores the coastal bridges of Conde McCullough, Oregon’s premier bridge designer.

At 1 p.m., ODOT Senior Historian Robert W. Hadlow, Ph.D., will discuss the reconstruction of the bridge. Hadlow is author of “Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans,” and has listed a dozen of McCullough’s bridges in the National Register of Historic Places. Co-Presenting is bridge expert Chris Leedham, P.E., Structural Design Engineer for ODOT, who administers Oregon’s Historic Covered Bridge Program.

At 3 p.m., Matt Love, Oregon City-born winner of the 2009 Oregon Holbrook Literary Legacy Award, will present “Legends of the Arch Bridge.”

Bridge history: The bridge officially opened Jan. 1, 1923 and was designed by Conde McCullough, the Oregon State bridge engineer who is primarily known for building many of Oregon’s coastal bridges on U.S. Highway 101.
 
Before McCullough built the bridge, an old wooden suspension bridge constructed in 1888 connected both sides of the river. The old bridge, however, could not carry the additional traffic expected with the new Pacific Highway (Oregon Highway 99E).
 
McCullough studied the spot of where the bridge would go for two years, trying to figure out what type of bridge would work. A steel arch, in which the roadway is support partway up the arch, was what he finally chosen. McCullough had constructed several arch bridges for Oregon’s highways. However, this bridge was his first where the roadway was not on top of the arch or below the arch but in-between.