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Washington State Is Giving Away a Free Bridge

The 1930s span “would make the perfect present for someone who has always wanted their own bridge, but didn’t know quite where to start.”

WSDOT

“If you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you.”

It’s the quintessential indicator you might be an easy mark. So how suspicious should you feel when someone offers you an entire bridge, for free?

Very, but nevertheless Washington State Department of Transportation is legitimately doing just that with a bridge located about 75 miles south of Seattle. “Looking for a memorable gift for that special someone who's hard to shop for? How about the State Route 508 South Fork Newaukum River Bridge?” the agency writes on its blog. “Located near Onalaska in Lewis County, it would make the perfect present for someone who has always wanted their own bridge, but didn’t know quite where to start.”

As always with offers of free bridges, there are strings attached. Since its 1930 construction the pony-truss span has developed a rusty crust and some gaping holes. A motorist foolish enough to cross it as-is would probably wind up in a creek, socializing with salmon. The deck and substructure are not included, just the 90-foot steel trusses. And anybody hauling it off must first do a structural-engineering survey and then use the bridge “in a way that preserves historic relevance.”

Still, to hear from WSDOT Area Engineer Joanna Lowrey, you’d be a fool to pass this bridge by. She emails:

There are only 13 pony truss structures similar to this one remaining in service on public roadways or recreation trail in the state of Washington. It is eligible for the national register and with some rehabilitation may be able to be used for some purpose with much lighter loads than a state highway….

A little history on the bridge: The bridge was built in 1930 by Lewis County, but ownership later transferred to the state of Washington. The steel span is a riveted pony Warren truss with verticals and parallel chords. Creech Brothers from Aberdeen, WA, was the general contractor for the original construction project with a low bid of $15,898. The steel span was fabricated by Star Iron and Steel Company in Tacoma, WA. The design of the bridge was based on standardized design plans developed by the State Highway Department in 1927. The trusses support a steel floor system, a 6½” reinforced concrete bridge deck and a 20’ wide roadway for two‐way traffic.

Prospective bridge-havers should act fast. Lowrey says the department has already received a couple of “fairly serious” inquiries, including one from somebody wanting to use the trusses to protect a fish habitat. “We certainly hope we can find just the right owner and purpose,” she says, “so that this piece of Washington State history is not lost.”

More ownership information is available here; meanwhile, check out some more pictures of the free bridge.

WSDOT

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.