Wind damage closes Hwy 101 bridge

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — High winds over the weekend ripped away platforms workers were using to repaint and repair the landmark Astoria-Megler Bridge near the mouth of the Columbia River, and highway officials closed the span as a safety precaution.

Highway officials reopened on lane of the bridge by 11 a.m. Monday and expected the other lane to open as early as noon.

The bridge links western corners of Washington state and Oregon.

Drivers were detoured inland to the Highway 30 bridge between Longview, Wash., and Rainier, Ore.

A ferry between Westport, Ore., and Puget Island, Wash., abandoned its regular schedule to shuttle vehicles continuously across the river, the Daily Astorian (http://bit.ly/R6YPcS ) reported.

The winds Sunday were strong but not exceptional by coastal standards — National Weather Service equipment registered a top gust of 41 mph, and volunteer observers reported gusts of 50 mph, said meteorologist Beth Burgess.

"We're not quite sure why the cable ties broke in the wind," said Rick Little, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The cables secured decking at the side of the bridge that gave workers access to repaint and re-rivet the structure built in the 1960s and once called by the Astoria's mayor, Willis Van Dusen, "the most valuable public asset in Clatsop County."

The bridge itself was reported undamaged.

Work began in July on a five-year, $50 million project to renovate the bridge built originally for $24 million. It was repainted in the 1980s.

The department's project manager, Steve Templin, said the decking is thin sheet metal, and 500-700 feet of it was hanging by a cable from the side of the bridge on Monday morning.

Workers began removing that decking, and Little said crews expected to add cable ties to reinforce the decking that wasn't damaged.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press