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April 17, 2021

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Construction starts on new bridge to wildlife refuge’s River ‘S’ unit

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
5 Photos
Ellen Smart identifies the starting point of the replacement bridge that will cross over Lake River to the River ‘S’ unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a plan that has been in the works for more than a decade. Construction started in mid-March and is expected to last until sometime in spring 2020.
Ellen Smart identifies the starting point of the replacement bridge that will cross over Lake River to the River ‘S’ unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a plan that has been in the works for more than a decade. Construction started in mid-March and is expected to last until sometime in spring 2020. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — After a decade of discussion, planning and hoping, the bridge crossing Lake River to the River ‘S’ unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is actually being replaced.

Construction started in March on the replacement bridge, and is being led by the Western Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration, which designed and planned for the new bridge. According to a newsletter sent out about the project, the completion date is scheduled for April 16, 2020.

Currently, drivers have to cross BNSF Railway tracks, then drive across a 330-foot long, 16-foot wide single-lane wooden trestle bridge. The replacement bridge will be 525 feet long, 24 feet wide and have two lanes, according to Eric Anderson, deputy project leader with the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The replacement bridge will travel over the train tracks. When a train struck a car last year, the train had to stop on the tracks for hours, trapping visitors at the refuge with no other way out, Anderson said.

“Our use has continuously increased,” Anderson said. “This will provide more convenience for our visitors.”

Right now, construction is making things a little more difficult for visitors.

While construction is going on, the River ‘S’ Unit and the Auto Tour Route is closed Mondays through Fridays during construction. The unit and auto tour are open on weekends, and Anderson expects they’ll remain open on weekends for the duration of construction; the replacement bridge is being built alongside the current one. The last stage of the project will be to remove the old bridge.

Anderson said the bridge was built sometime between 1958 and 1960 by the farmers who owned the land before it became the refuge. It was built for $40,000, he said, which is roughly $3.5 million today.

This bridge project is expected to cost $8 million, all of which is coming from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds.

The new bridge will also make it easier to bring large equipment and heavy trucks into the refuge. The current bridge can’t hold more than 40 tons, meaning particularly heavy deliveries have to come in two trucks.

“Maintenance activities have been a delicate dance,” Anderson said. “With the new bridge, if it can legally drive on a highway, it can be delivered to the refuge.”

The current bridge also doesn’t meet earthquake standards, while the replacement will.

“This bridge is pushing 60,” Anderson said. “The legs in the water are slowly decomposing.”

Better access

The new bridge isn’t the only project expected to make access to the refuge easier. The Ridgefield Main Avenue Access Improvements Project is expected to start in May and last through October. The project is a partnership between the city, the wildlife refuge, Clark County and the Federal Highway Administration. Funding for the project will come from a $3.1 million grant through the Federal Lands Access Program.

The project calls for construction of around 2,200 feet of multi-use pathway connecting the end of the sidewalk to the Carty Unit at the refuge, near Northwest 291st Street, and excavation of embankments to the north of the walkway and extensive fill along the south.

The project will also remove a culvert in Gee Creek, which has made the creek a flooding hazard during heavy rain and prevented fish passage. Removal is expected to restore that. The path will include a bridge over Gee Creek, and the path will stand slightly higher than the Main Avenue road grade so as to be higher than the 100-year flood elevation.

“We’ve talked about the bridge for over a decade between planning, designing, realty transactions and getting all the easements,” Anderson said. “To see construction now and starting soon on Main Avenue, it’s all really exciting.”

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