State raises maximum load on Wishkah River Bridge

Extra heavy trucks will be able to use the Wishkah River Bridge again so long as they get a permit ahead of time. The state Department of Transportation changed the load restrictions across the tiny bridge needed for trucks doing business at construction sites and the Port of Grays Harbor to get into Aberdeen.

The decision came after months of complaints and discussion among the local trucking community that they were getting cited for crossing the bridge and yet there was no other way to get into the city.

Engineers with the state Department of Transportation drilled into a key crossbeam in the bridge’s structure to test its compressive strength, according to a press release from the agency.

“The results were amazing,” state bridge preservation engineer Harvey Coffman said in the press release. “We found that the concrete in the crossbeam was almost twice as strong as we expected. In a bridge over 87 years old, that finding is quite impressive. …

“People might wonder why we didn’t physically test the Wishkah Bridge before we placed the load restriction on it,” Coffman added. “I wish we had the resources to do that. We do structural inspections every two years to look for bridge deterioration. Sometimes a special circumstance or request comes up, and we have the opportunity to take a closer look at a bridge. I’m glad in this case we have a satisfactory outcome.”’

Aberdeen City Council President Kathi Hoder had led discussions to get the state to change its load restrictions. Hoder, who owns the Hoquiam Licensing Agency and has been responsible for issuing special trucking permits, said that the State Patrol was issuing fines of up to $17,000 for extra heavy trucks crossing the Chehalis and Wishkah River bridges because they were over the load restrictions.

The problem was that trucks were only allowed 19,000 pounds per axle across both the Chehalis and Wishkah river bridges. That posed a huge problem for companies like Snell Crane, which had no choice but to send one of its cranes into the city at 21,500 pounds per axle and risk getting a hefty fine because of it.

But, effective immediately, the state agency says it’s raising the maximum limit across the Wishkah River Bridge to 22,000 pounds per axle. The state agency is also working on fixes to the Chehalis River Bridge so that trucks can straddle the center lanes with a special permit and cross it.

“This is all more than I could ever have dreamed of,” Hoder said. “It’s like magic — ‘hocus pocus’ and you can use the bridges again. This is a 100 percent win for us. I’ve been at licensing for 46 years and I have never seen government move that fast in my life.”

Hoder said just a few weeks ago she worked with the state agency and the Aberdeen Police Department to aid an out-of-state trucking company bring huge equipment to the Port of Grays Harbor. After traveling across the country, they had been stuck at the trucking weigh area outside Montesano.

“Our bridge was the only one they couldn’t get across,” Hoder said.

Until six months ago, trucks also used to be able to take Highway 107 outside Montesano, but two wooden bridges were recently downgraded to only accept 18,000 pounds per axle. Hoder said she had a commitment from state Department of Transportation officials that it would be working on fixes for those bridges, as well.