BNSF bridge ‘swap’ will take place in the spring

Planning for $10 million construction effort began several years ago

The BNSF Railway bridge replacement project that began in Camas in 2014, is expected to wrap up by mid-2017.

According to BNSF Spokesman Gus Melonas, work that is currently being completed on the Washougal River railroad bridge project includes drilling below the water’s surface, and pouring cement for the placement of steel peer supports.

The new single-track steel truss bridge, which is being built on temporary platforms that were constructed next to the current bridge, will be moved into place during a 48-hour period at the end of April or early May. During this time, all rail traffic in the area will be shut down.

“It will be a two-day process to swap the old structure with the new one,” Melonas said. “By early May, the new bridge will be in place.”

During the shut-down, freight trains will be re-routed through Stampede Pass and Stevenson Pass.

Once the bridge work is completed, crews will begin removing support equipment, surplus materials and debris from the site.

“It’s going to be a two-month process,” Melonas said.

The 550-foot-long Washougal River railroad bridge was originally built in 1908. Over the years, work has been done to improve and maintain the structure, but it has never been replaced.

The new bridge will have a wider clearance, and its foundation will be set deeper than it is now. It will include a 203-foot through truss span, 162-foot and 92-foot through plate girder spans, and two 42-foot pre-stressed concrete spans. The existing bridge consists of two 200-foot through truss spans with 50-foot deck plate girder approach spans.

Permitting for the estimated $10 million upgrade and enhancement project, intended to improve safety and efficiency, was underway in early 2014.

The Washougal River railroad bridge is crossed by up to 40 trains in a 24-hour period.

Camas City Councilman Don Chaney is happy to see the project nearing completion. Five to six years ago, he voiced concerns about the bridge’s obvious deteriorating appearance.

Lloyd Halverson, who was city administrator at that time, recalled on Wednesday that when he communicated those concerns to BNSF officials, they explained the rust was simply a common occurrence as steel bridges age.

Within a year or two, however, BNSF announced plans to fully replace the century-old bridge.

“I can’t say there was a nexus between the city’s requests,” Chaney said on Tuesday. “But [I] do find some coincidence that they have decided to replace the bridge, even if they might not acknowledge a connection.”

Chaney noted that the new bridge will be a benefit to the community.

“It’s no doubt a very, very expensive endeavor, and I am appreciative the railroad is replacing the old, deteriorating bridge,” he said. “Especially in light of the increasing coal and oil transport traffic. I assume it will be a safer and more durable bridge.”

According to Melonas, BNSF has plans to complete significant track replacements and upgrades along the Columbia River Gorge line in 2017.

In addition, another bridge replacement project will get underway this year in Stevenson. The structure, located on the west side of Stevenson, spans the border between the city and Skamania County.