Building Bridges

By: Michaela Fujita-Conrads

From modern spans to historical landmarks to art deco wonders, bridges in the Northwest are something travelers easily take for granted when crossing rivers and waterways. But, next time you cross one, pause to take in the engineering marvel, whether on a grand or a small scale. Each one tells a story, has a history, and sports a design that can elevate it to a work of art.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge consists of two 5,400-foot suspension bridges stretching across the Puget Sound at one of its narrowest spots: Tacoma Narrows. The original span, built in 1940, was the third longest suspension bridge in the world and now rests at the bottom of the Narrows as one of the world’s largest man-made reefs.

Four months after it was built, the bridge tragically collapsed in a windstorm on November 7, 1940, earning it the name “Galloping Gertie.” Historic film footage recorded the event, which has been called “the most dramatic failure in bridge engineering history.”

Since then, two much safer spans have replaced the original. One opened in 1950, and, due to high traffic between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula, the other opened in 2007. Today, the spans carry up to 90,000 vehicles per day, and that volume is expected to increase.

Chambers Covered Bridge

In 1925, the Chambers Covered Bridge opened to carry timber by rail from the Lorane Valley logging operation to the J. H. Chambers Mill Company in Cottage Grove, Oregon. In the 1950s, the Cottage Grove mill burned down and closed, and the rail line was dismantled. During the transition, the Chambers Covered Bridge remained intact.

In 2010, the original bridge was dismantled and then reconstructed to be identical to the original. It holds the distinction of being the only remaining fully covered railroad bridge west of the Mississippi. Today, it is a popular pedestrian thoroughfare.

Tenth Street Bridge

Completed in 1920 by Engineer Ralph Adams and architect George Shanley, Great Falls’ Tenth Street Bridge is the longest open-spandrel ribbed concrete arched bridge in Montana.

The eight concrete arches reflect a luminous blue on the Missouri River every Friday and Saturday night. Depending on the time of year, the colors may change to celebrate a festive occasion or holiday. People can even reserve nights for a customized personal color arrangement done in lights.(Hint: Keep this in mind for your silver or golden anniversary.)

St. Johns Bridge

With a dozen bridges crossing the Willamette River in Portland, one stands particularly tall. With its two 408-foot-tall gothic-motif towers, the St. Johns Bridge is the tallest bridge in the city.

Holton Robinson and David Steinman designed the 2,067-foot span, which opened in 1931. David Steinman was well known in the early 20th century for his impeccable suspension bridge designs. Steinman designed beautiful elements that were integrated into the structure. The towers are not only magnificent features, but also provide strength and stability. The concrete anchorages are known for their elaborate architectural detailing, and the soft green color of the bridge was chosen to meld with its surroundings. Steinman said he wanted to “get away from these sad, somber cold colors and into something warm and bright to harmonize with and be a part of the landscape.” Today, the green of the St. Johns Bridge stands out against the often cloudy Portland sky.

Perrine Bridge

The Perrine Bridge is a truss arch span, with its supports imbedded deep into the canyon walls. Stretching 1,500 feet across Snake River, this structure is more than a transportation bridge. Pedestrians use the bridge’s walkways for stunning views and photo ops of the Snake River. For those daring enough to try, BASE parachute and bungee jumping are also a common recreational activity for this 486-foot tall bridge. (The Perrine Bridge is one of the only man-made structures in the United States where you can BASE jump without a permit.)

On the end of the bridge is Twin Falls Visitor Center. Visitors can stop there for more information about this bridge as well as to enjoy more great views of the canyon. It also offers easy access to the trails along the canyon rim and under the bridge for an alternative vantage point.

Cedar Street Bridge

Cedar Street Bridge spans 400 feet across Sand Creek in downtown Sandpoint, Idaho. However, this bridge stands apart from all the rest. While most are available for transportation and pedestrians, the Cedar Street Bridge is the only bridge in the United States that possesses a marketplace. Stroll the bridge and enjoy cart vendors, restaurants, gift shops, jewelers and boutiques.

Built in the 1930s, the bridge was simply a connector between downtown and the train depot. However, when it went under repairs in 1970, Scott Glickenhaus, local entrepreneur and world traveler, had the idea to transform the bridge into a public gathering place. The infamous Ponte Vecchio, the medieval stone arch bridge in Florence, Italy, inspired Glickenhaus to go above and beyond with the Cedar Street Bridge.