Age, weather caused Hawthorne Bridge malfunction

Hawthorne Bridge is US's oldest operating vertical lift bridge

Hawthorne Bridge over the Willamette River in Portland. (KOIN 6 File)
Hawthorne Bridge over the Willamette River in Portland. (KOIN 6 File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — For three hours on Sunday morning, traffic was rerouted around the Hawthorne Bridge after the bridge’s lift got stuck.

According to Mike Pullen who works for Multnomah County, it was a combination of weather and age that caused the country’s oldest operating vertical lift bridge to sop operating, prompting the closure of Oregon’s second busiest public transit bridge.

“It was a combination of strong winds and the steel wheels that keep the lift span aligned. We adjust them for temperature every winter and they hadn’t yet been adjusted,” said Pullen.

Multnomah County officials said they’ll take a look at the pre-winter and pre-summer maintenance schedule to keep it from happening again.

Pullen said with severe winds expected late this week, bridge operators will be keeping a close eye on wind speeds. However, in the case of the 104-year-old Hawthorne Bridge, it has to be opened every eight hours to keep it in operating condition.

While there are plans in place to get vehicles off bridge ramps when there’s a problem, there is a growing concern with so many old bridges that more than one could get jammed at the same time.

“We’re using technology from the day of the Model T. A lot has changed. This is a sign we have some old infrastructure here,” said Pullen.

Although the bridges go through electrical and control system upgrades, the county plans to take a closer look at what to do with some of the century old spans.

“Even replacing one or more could be in the conversation next year,” said Pullen.

The biggest worry regarding the old bridges though is what will happen to the in the event of an earthquake?

The county said the next bridge to get attention is the Broadway Bridge, which is also more than 100 years old. The repairs will include painting the structure to prevent corrosion and adding new steel wheels for the counterweights.

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