Longview Bridge (later renamed Lewis and Clark Bridge) spanning the Columbia River opens on March 29, 1930.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 3/13/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5411
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On March 29, 1930, the Longview Bridge (later renamed Lewis and Clark Bridge) opens. The bridge crosses the Columbia River between Longview (Cowlitz County) and Rainier, Oregon. It is a cantilever bridge, at the time the longest and highest in the country.  It is 8,192 feet long, including approaches. The roadway spans the river 210 feet above the water, and the top steel spans it at 340 feet.  The designers claim that any vessel then in existence, including a fully rigged clipper ship, can pass under it.

Bridging Political Squabbles

The bridge rose above a history of political squabbling between interests in Oregon vs. interests in Washington state. According to Holstine and Hobbs's Spanning Washington, in 1921 the Oregon State Legislature authorized the Oregon State Highway Commission to conduct a site survey below Portland for a future bridge. When the Highway Commission chose a site opposite the new planned lumber town of Longview (dedicated in 1923), Portland interests resisted, feeling a bridge thus sited would benefit Longview rather than Portland. Efforts for a joint bridge project failed and private interests took up the cause. 

Private interests including Robert Long (1850-1934), lumberman and eponym of Longview, continued discussing the bridge amid continuing commercial rivalries between Oregon and Washington. Finally Oregon authorities approved a franchise that included an extreme bridge design and required approval of the U.S. secretaries of war, agriculture, and commerce. In November 1927 Congress authorized the private construction of the bridge, stipulating a channel width of a thousand feet and clearance of 195 feet at mid-span to accommodate tall-masted clipper ships.

Clipper Ships and Daffodils

And so, despite extreme design demands, the bridge was built. Famed engineer Joseph Baermann Strauss (1870-1938), who also designed San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, designed the Longview Bridge. It has more than 12,000 tons of steel, which was fabricated at the Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania and erected by J. H. Pomeroy and Co. of Seattle. The bridge has a steel cantilever central section, two steel anchor spans and five Warren truss approach spans. It has steel piers.

The bridge was dedicated on March 29, 1930. From the other Washington, President Herbert Hoover turned a telegraphic key and a knife on the bridge fell to cut a chain of daffodils that stretched along the length of the bridge. The governors shared a handshake.

The bridge opened at the beginning of the Great Depression as a privately owned toll bridge. It became an important commercial link but the finances of it (the cost was $5.8 million) were burdensome. In 1947 the Washington State Toll Bridge Authority purchased it and replaced wooden approach spans with steel and concrete approach spans.  The debt was paid off and the tolls were removed in 1965.

The bridge is now (2005) part of State Route 433.  In 1980 the bridge was rededicated and renamed the Lewis and Clark Bridge. In 2002, the Washington State Department of Transportation began replacing portions of the bridge's deck.


History of Cowlitz County ed. by Ruth Ott and Dorothy York (Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1983), 105; "Lewis and Clark Bridge," Structurae: International Database and Gallery of Structures website (www.structurae.de); "SR 433, Lewis and Clark Bridge Deck Replacement," Washington State Department of Transportation website, WSDOT Projects (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects); "The Lewis and Clark Bridge," Highways of Washington State (http://www.angelfire.com/wa2/hwysofwastate/ColRivBr05.html); Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998), 115; Craig Holstine and Richard Hobbs, Spanning Washington: Historic Highway Bridges of the Evergreen State (Pullman: WSU Press, 2005), 101-103; "Bridge Chronology," Columbia County Historian homepage accessed May 2, 2012 (http://www.twrps.com/ccor/chronos.html).
Note: This essay was expanded on March 29, 2007, and corrected on May 2, 2012, to state the correct cost of bridge construction.

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