ELEGANT ARCH BRIDGE
By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
It is a bridge that the interstate has passed by.
The Upper Perry Arch Bridge spans the Grande Ronde River and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks about three miles west of La Grande.
Little traffic uses it now. From the bridge roadway, one can look up and see Â— and hear Â— the modern-day traffic zooming westbound along Interstate 84 above the chasm of the river. The interstate took traffic off the bridge in 1960.
Although it has been identified as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is destined to be torn down by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The bridge, designed by world-famous engineer Conde Balcom McCullough, was built in 1924, a great time of building bridges in Oregon.
At that time the roadway was the original Oregon Trail Highway No. 6 or U.S. 30, the main highway in the mountains and through the Grande Ronde Valley. Now it is a dead-end road, a short section of Highway 30, reached via the Perry exit. ODOT won't replace the span, but will compensate the couple of landowners across the river who will lose access to their property.
There are no permanent residences across the bridge, but it will be a year or so before the bridge is torn down, after the right of way negotiations are completed, according to ODOT publicist Tom Strandberg.
ODOT will look at "whether there is any prudent and feasible alternative to removing" the bridge, but even at a cursory glance by an untrained eye, it appears unsalvagable.
The structure is in sad shape. The concrete parapet has deteriorated to such an extent that rebar is exposed and projects away from the parapet in some sections. At one spot, about three feet long on top of the wall, three metal rebars poke their heads out. Others are showing along the edge of the structure just above the roadway.
While it is elegant appearing from below, along the river's edge, looking up, ODOT officials say the bridge's poor condition includes cracked deck beams and arch ribs. They say that reactive aggregate, also called efflorescent aggregate, was used in its construction. That material has severely deteriorated and could cause the bridge to collapse on its own. It can't carry much weight.
The bridge's greatest fame appears to be in its designer.
C.B. McCullough (1887-1946) is described as "a brilliant engineer and builder renowned for his elegant, cost-efficient custom design spans" by Robert W. Hadlow in his book "Elegant Arches, Soaring Spans."
McCullough was called "one of the most important bridge engineers of the past 125 years" by a publication called Engineer News-Record.
The Iowa State graduate is credited with starting the ODOT bridge division and was personally responsible for the design and construction of 162 beautiful and functional bridges in the United States.
Practically all the bridges along the Oregon Coast Highway (Highway 101) are McCullough's design. Most have "arch crowns, art deco-inspired pylons and obelisks, Gothic piers towering spires and arched railing panels," according to Hadlow.
They were built from 1932 to 1936, the golden age of engineering in the state, a time when the major trunk routes of the state were completed.
McCullough spent two years in Costa Rica working on several of the bridges along the Inter-American Highway. He taught at Oregon State from 1916-1919, where he developed the engineering program.
The La Grande bridge won't be the first of McCullough's to disappear. Several of his coastal bridges also have been dismantled.