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County looks to expedite repairs as bolts on South Toutle Road Bridge break
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County looks to expedite repairs as bolts on South Toutle Road Bridge break

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South fork of Toutle River

Biologist Bob Lucas overlooks the south fork of the Toutle River in 2020. 

TOUTLE — The South Toutle Road Bridge, which has endured structural issues throughout the summer, is worsening and officials are looking to start emergency repairs next week.

Cowlitz County Engineer Susan Eugenis said bolts that secure the structure to its foundation have broken, causing the bridge deck to lift roughly 2 inches above the adjoining roadway. The lift occurred sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning, she added. Crews placed an asphalt ramp at the location to allow passenger cars to cross.

The county reports the bridge is safe for cars, trucks, school buses, ambulances and fire trucks. Vehicles heavier than large, empty semi trucks are banned from the roadway to protect the structure, said Cowlitz County Safety Operations Supervisor Andy Ogden.

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Around 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Cowlitz County Public Works Department reported “the condition of the South Toutle Road Bridge had worsened.” Eugenis said all of the 6-foot bolts that attach the bridge deck to its concrete foundation have broken on the western side of the bridge. She said there are other bolts throughout the structure, making it still safe to use.

“The bridge is not going anywhere,” Eugenis said. “It’s not going to go floating down the Toutle River.”

The county first reported a problem in June, stating the bolts anchoring the bridge to its foundation were breaking. Eugenis said the bridge was built in 1971 and the 50-year-old bolts need to be replaced. Ogden said the road is owned by the county and located about a mile from Toutle.

The county has imposed speed and weight limits on the structure since the end of June to limit traffic and protect the bridge. Vehicles that weigh more than 10 tons cannot use the bridge and the speed limit has been reduced to 25 mph from 35 mph. In July, the county ordered one driver at a time to cross the two-lane bridge. Stop signs are placed at each side of the bridge to ensure two vehicles do not go across the structure at once.

Eugenis said an emergency contract for repairs will be on the county commissioner’s agenda next week for approval, and materials likely will be ordered next week.

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