Construction crews are busy at work this summer, repairing and rehabilitating a historic Columbia River structure that will provide a critical link in a popular route used by recreationists in the region.
The iconic Beverly Bridge between Vantage and Mattawa, along with the recently completed Renslow Trestle over Interstate 90, will allow people to safely travel on the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail in an area where they would previously have to detour.
The bridge was completed in 1909 to serve the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 due to its significance in regional railroad history. A fire destroyed part of the wooden decking on the bridge in 2014. The current project, overseen by Washington State Parks, involves removing the wooden decking and replacing it with a concrete surface and handrails. It also involves rehabilitating a redundant power connection between Grant and Kittitas counties.
Washington State Parks Project Manager Adam Fulton said the project should be finished in late August to early September. Three hundred and thirty-eight concrete panels, most of which are 13 feet wide and 8 feet long, are being installed on the bridge decking after the treated wood is removed. Once the panels are installed, Fulton said crews will pour a concrete slab over the panels to complete the new decking surface, along with new handrails for pedestrian safety.
“We’re about 99% done with the panels,” Fulton said. “There’s just a few oddball sizes we have to have custom made and brought to the site. Starting this week, we’re doing the concrete overlay.”
He said 90% of the project funding came from the Washington Legislature through a grant supplied by the Department of Archaeological and Historical Preservation, with 10% funded through the Kittitas Public Utility District.
“The reason for that is because there is a redundant power feed that connects Grant County PUD and Kittitas County PUD,” he said. “That line is being run over the top of the bridge.”
In a historical tie-in, Fulton said the power connection is being run over the catenary that was once used to supply electric power to trains that crossed over the bridge, an unusual feature of the structure.
Throughout the project, he said the goal has been to preserve as much of the historic nature of the bridge, while also taking modern issues into consideration.
“It’s kind of a tight rope,” he said. “You want to leave as much of the historic character as you can and not alter that, and yet you have to build today’s safety and environmental codes. Hopefully we found that sweet spot. When you look at the bridge, you’re still looking at this fantastic historic structure that was built from 1906 to 1909 by a steel company that was later owned by J.P. Morgan. It was a fantastic time in the history of our nation.”
While walking the tightrope, Fulton said the project has been able to provide extra safety not only to pedestrians but the structure itself. By removing the wooden decking, the bridge is not only less susceptible to fire but more environmentally friendly.
“The dual benefit is no longer will we have heavily creosote-treated materials leaching into the Columbia River,” he said. “Instead, it’s concrete and steel, which are essentially inert to significant runoff or leachate.”
As the project nears completion, Fulton said Washington State Parks will release details on a planned grand opening ceremony for the bridge. For now, he said the exact date has not been set.
Once the project is complete, Fulton said the bridge will provide safe access to a crossing over the Columbia River that previously hasn’t existed for decades in the region, helping to complete a critical link for those using the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trial. Currently, the only crossing in the area is Interstate 90 on the Vantage Bridge, which does not accommodate pedestrians.
“What this trail does is provide the big link from east to west,” he said. “Suddenly, the trail is this continuous experience. This bridge is a jewel. You’re over the top of the Columbia River with fantastic views of the geology and cultural experience with the hydropower. It’s an amazing epicenter of interest.”