The Astoria-Megler Bridge is an engineering marvel that spans 4.1 miles from the town of Astoria, Oregon, across the mighty Columbia River to the tiny town of Megler, Washington.
Construction began on November 2, 1962. It would be the final missing link in the long-desired Trans-American Highway — a continuous, uninterrupted motor route between the Canadian and Mexican borders.
The bridge design was a joint effort of Washington and Oregon highway departments. The monumental construction effort required 100,000 cubic yards of concrete, 6,000 tons of steel rebar and 12,000 tons of structural steel.
Four years and two weeks after breaking ground, the bridge was done.
“The day of dedication in 1966, Governor Hatfield from Oregon, Governor Evans from Washington, cut the ribbon assisted by Miss Oregon, Miss Washington. The Astoria Clowns, that were incredibly important to the story. And 30,000 visitors were there to see it and celebrate it,” said Mac Burns, Clatsop County Historical Society Executive Director.
“Upon completion of the bridge, the local newspaper said it was one of the most important things that had ever happened to our community. Right up there with Robert Gray sailing into the mouth of the Columbia and discovering the Columbia River; Lewis and Clark and John Jacob Astor establishing this place as an outpost,” Burns said.
Things were about to change in Astoria.
“Fifty-seven years later, it’s easy for us to take it for granted, even though 6,000 vehicles a day cross it. But the thing is that it had a lot of importance to this to the community. It was an economic engine for northwest Oregon, for southwestern Washington,” Burns said.
A toll was imposed to cross the bridge to help pay the $24 million construction cost.
“Businesses boomed after it was built,” Burns said. “A lot of the people realized that, yes, this was important and it wasn’t just Astoria. It really was … a good portion of the state was now accessible and had not been. There’s certain things you’re going to bring across on a small ferryboat and there’s things you’re not going to bring across on a ferryboat. So the bridge changed the world for both states.
In 1996, something interesting happened. Remember that toll to cross the bridge?
“The people that were advocating for it said once it’s built, once it’s paid for, we will take the toll out. And we will never charge for you to cross that bridge again. And they did,” Burns said.
More than 1.6 million vehicles cross the Astoria-Megler bridge each year.
“It brings tourists. It’s an economic driver. It brings goods. It brings family and friends. It does everything they thought it would,” Burns said.
And it makes for a heck of a photo op.