Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Longtime connection to Big Flat comes down after new bridges go up

For 58 years the Steven Memorial Bridge provided access to the remote homes and ranches of Big Flat on the South Fork Smith River and the vast forested mountains around it.

But with two new South Fork Road bridges successfully completed last winter, the historic one-lane Steven Memorial Bridge was declared old and in the way.

Construction crews from West Coast Contractors, based in Coos Bay, demolished the main structural components of the old Steven Memorial Bridge this week, carefully dismantling nine steel girders weighing 46,000 pounds a piece.

A new Steven Memorial Bridge at 370 feet was completed in November just upstream of the old Steven Bridge as well as a new Hurdy Gurdy Creek Bridge at 190 feet, one mile up the road.  With extra time in the construction season, West Coast removed the old Hurdy Gurdy Creek Bridge last year ahead of schedule.

Work was suspended during the winter months to keep the river free of as much dirt and silt as possible, according to West Coast.

The total cost for construction of the two bridges finished last year and removal of the Hurdy Gurdy Creek and Steven Memorial bridges is $8.6 million.

The two bridges were the last remaining one-lane sections on South Fork Road after four one-lane sections were widened and one-lane bridges over Rock Creek and Boulder Creek were replaced in 2009 and 2010, costing almost $14 million.

Chuck Laws, project engineer on behalf the Federal Highway Administration, which funded the project, stood on the new Steven Bridge Friday morning while describing the dismantling of the girders on the old bridge below.

"They've lifted this (girder) out and then we'll cut it in half - they're 110 feet long each. Then we'll load both halves on one flatbed headed to a salvage yard in Eugene," Laws said.

West Coast Contractors removed all nine girders this week, using a 350-ton crane from Mountain Crane in Salt Lake City.

Also on Friday morning, West Coast used a rock hammer attached to an excavator to chip away at the base of one of the two primary concrete piers, encouraging the massive concrete structure to fall.

Laws said that the concrete pier on the west side of the river would be "a lot more delicate to deal with" due to its proximity to the river, requiring saw cutting in place of the rock hammer.

On top of removing the last remnants of the old Steven Memorial Bridge, West Coast will also be constructing a parking lot, a river access trail, and a vault toilet at Steven Bridge, which is a popular starting place for whitewater boating.

A final coating of asphalt will be applied to Steven Memorial Bridge during this construction season as well.

"West Coast Contractors is pleased to work alongside the Federal Highway Administration to bring these bridges up to current standards," a statement from West Coast said. "The new bridges are a step towards making America's infrastructure ready to endure the years to come."

The entire project is expected to be completed by June 26.

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