Three waterfront bridges in downtown Astoria will close to vehicle traffic on Friday.
City engineers, who have met with business owners, announced the closures at the bases of Sixth, Seventh and 11th streets at a City Council work session on Wednesday morning. People will still be allowed to walk along the bridges and the Astoria Riverfront Trolley will continue to run until work to replace two of the bridges begins this fall.
The city had hoped to hold off on any closures until it was time to fully replace the structures. Replacement of the waterfront bridges at the bases of the Seventh, Ninth and 11th streets is set to begin on Oct. 1, followed by the next set of bridges — at the bases of Sixth, Eighth and 10th streets — next fall. The six bridges provide access to downtown piers.
But inspectors for the Oregon Department of Transportation witnessed load-limit violations and noted structural issues with several of the bridges in July. They told city staff the bridges would need to be repaired or else closed to everything but pedestrian traffic.
In addition to the fear that the bridges might have to be closed immediately or undergo expensive repairs right before being replaced, the project hit another snag this summer when bids for the replacement work came in over budget. Now, Cindy Moore, assistant city engineer, says she is “95 percent sure” construction will go ahead as planned, but she won’t know until she meets with the contractor next week to determine the schedule.
It has been a balancing act to keep the bridges open — and at a load limit that could still accommodate vehicles — with temporary fixes until the structures could be permanently replaced, Moore told the City Council in July.
After receiving inspection reports from the state, city staff recommended closing the Sixth Street bridge, located near a Chevron gas station and city viewing platform over the Columbia River, this year. They also recommended closing the Seventh Street bridge near Buoy Beer Co., since Eighth Street provides alternative access to the business.
The 11th Street bridge they hoped to keep open up to the date of construction, but were prepared to close it to all but pedestrians as early as Sept. 1. The city added extra flagging and signs to keep all motor traffic except passenger vehicles from crossing over the bridge, which operates under a load limit.
The early closures aside, a number of business owners have been worried about what the bridge replacement work will mean for their businesses. The city also has several agreements in place with property owners for use of their land during construction.
Moore met with many of the stakeholders Wednesday morning to see what the city could do to help them weather the project.
“I think, hopefully, we got some of the rumors contained, some of the anxiety contained,” reported David Reid, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber plans to aid business owners with marketing and advertising to let customers know the businesses are still open during the bridge replacement work.
“This has been a roller coaster, frankly, over the past couple months,” City Manager Brett Estes said. He praised city staff’s ability to be nimble and respond to sudden changes. Meanwhile, partnerships with groups like the chamber provide “more robust community outreach.”
“This is the best outcome we could have foreseen,” Estes said.