The Astoria-Megler Bridge, which was formally dedicated August 27, 1966, stretches 4.1 miles from Astoria, Oregon, across the mouth of the Columbia River, to Point Ellice, Washington. Its construction was an impressive feat. The bridge’s main span is 1,232 feet in length, the longest “continuous truss” in the nation.
North and South traffic across the mouth of the Columbia River was a problem for many years. In 1921 a scheduled ferry service from Astoria, to Megler on the Washington side, was established. The operation of the ferry system was taken over by the State of Oregon in 1946, with operational control being assigned to the State Highway Department.
For many years, the idea of a bridge across the Lower Columbia River simmered in people’s thoughts, and in 1961, Senator Dan Theil (of Astoria) successfully headed a crusade for the bridge, “a bridge,” critics said, “to nowhere.” On August 6, 1962, Oregon’s Governor, Mark O. Hatfield, turned the first shovel of dirt on the river bank in Astoria marking the official start of the project. Actual construction work began on November 5, 1962.
The Astoria approach utilizes pre-stressed concrete beam spans, set on concrete piers, located to avoid overloading the slide-prone Astoria hills. The approach ramp curves counter-clockwise through a full 360 degrees, climbing almost 200 feet above mean low water.
The bridge is designed to withstand some of the toughest attacks of nature, Wind gusts of 150 miles per hour from the fierce Pacific storms that occasionally batter the coast still leave the bridge with a safety factor. The concrete piers are built with an eye toward the river flood speed of nine miles per hour when whole trees sometime are swept along by the raging water.
The long-lasting question centered on the naming of the bridge. To Astorians, the choice was simple —- the Astoria Bridge. They had thought of it, lobbied for it, and suffered through its construction, and it was made official by the Oregon Highway Commission in July, 1966.
It didn’t take long for the bridge to prove its detractors wrong. The critics of the “Bridge to Nowhere” wondered out loud who would want to take a bridge from a small town to an empty shore. The answer came quickly: plenty of people. In the last five months of 1966, the bridge carried about 240,000 vehicles, the state’s projected figure for all of 1967. By 1993, more than 1.6 million vehicles a year were crossing the “Bridge to Nowhere.” On December 24, 1993, more than two years early, the bonds were paid off and the the toll removed.
As the final link in the Mexico-to-Canada highway system, the bridge saves motorists driving time. And it provides an awesome view of the mouth of the Columbia River and at night, the twinkling hills of Astoria.