Cougar Creek Bridge’s days numbered

Span along Washougal River Road will be replaced this summer

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter



It doesn’t look like much to most drivers using it, but the Cougar Creek Bridge stands in rare company.

The short span along Northeast Washougal River Road is one of just two remaining wooden bridges maintained by Clark County.

By this summer, that number falls to one. The county’s public works department plans to demolish Cougar Creek Bridge, replacing the more than 75-year-old span with a longer, wider, more structurally sound successor. Drivers will certainly notice construction impacts in the meantime; the work will completely close a section of Washougal River Road for up to three months.

A routine inspection of the bridge in 2010 found “significant rot” in its wood supports, said county project manager Jean Singer. Crews completed repairs later that year. But a federal grant award soon prompted the county to pull the trigger on a full-scale, concrete-and-steel replacement, she said.

“It’s a 75-year-old bridge,” Singer said. “It’s toward the end of its life.”

County officials stressed that the bridge is perfectly stable and safe. But Singer noted that replacement eventually trumps continued maintenance as the most sensible way forward.

“There’s only so much you can do,” she said.

The project is expected to cost $1.08 million, according to the county. About 80 percent of that will be covered by the federal Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee grant program. Several other Clark County bridges will benefit from that award, announced in 2010.

The Cougar Creek Bridge is northeast of Washougal, about 1.4 miles west of the Washougal River Road-Vernon Road intersection. That’s a project site with plenty of complications, forcing crews to impact two waterways: Cougar Creek and the nearby Washougal River. Rocky terrain in the area made it difficult to avoid closing the road entirely, Singer said.

“Literally, we were between a rock and a hard place,” Singer said. “Our opportunities for building a detour or doing this in pieces were very limited.”

Environmental rules typically limit in-water construction work to the month of August. Clark County has applied for an extension, Singer said, hoping to start sooner.

When Washougal River Road closes, it will sever a thoroughfare used by 3,400 vehicles daily, according to the county. Public works officials have reached out to affected residents and agencies, Singer said, and will continue to do so throughout the project.

At least one agency is watching closely: East County Fire & Rescue, which frequently uses Washougal River Road in responding to traffic accidents and other emergency calls, said Chief Scott Koehler. The department has been notified by the county, and will simply maneuver around the work site when the time comes, he said.

“The plan is just basically figure out what side of the construction the incident is on, and send the closest engine,” Koehler said. “We’ll make sure we get a rig out there.”

That will make giving specific locations very important for callers reporting an incident or emergency, Koehler said. The agency operates stations on both sides of the Cougar Creek Bridge.

“You don’t always get the closest engine that you would day to day,” Koehler said, “but you get the closest engine that has access.”

For residents and commuters, the detour will depend on the destination, Singer said. Washougal River Road is accessible by a handful of connecting roads from the south, plus state Highway 14 and Salmon Falls Road from the east.

The project’s exact schedule isn’t set just yet. Planners hope to finish the permitting process this spring, then get in and done as soon as possible, Singer said. Incentives for finishing quickly may be written into the building contract when the project goes out to bid, she said.

The Cougar Creek Bridge is likely to be gone by this summer. Though it was built in 1935, the bridge doesn’t qualify as historically significant. Much of it was rebuilt in 1959.

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