The skies were dreary as they so often are in fall, but that didn’t stop a new, innovative bridge to be installed on the Chehalis Reservation. Installed by Premier Steel Services and The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation in Oakville on Friday, October 22, the new bridge resolved a major safety hazard while simultaneously breaking ground for new bridge technology in the state.

The current Chehalis Reservation sits in southwest Washington and is comprised of 980 enrolled members. As for everyone, including the hundreds of individuals who live on the Reservation, access to and from their homes, farms and businesses is essential for everyday life, and the original bridge was posing major issues. After being historically problematic for its narrow frame, the bridge was damaged in October of 2019 and reduced to single-lane traffic throughout 2020, creating further problems for residents.

Being down to just one lane created major headaches as the faulty bridge is one of five located on Howanut Road, the only road that runs from east to west on the Reservation. Recently, housing on the west side of the Reservation has expanded, creating increased traffic on a daily basis. Additionally, the massive amounts of rainfall that this region experiences also poses problems for local bridges, especially those on the Reservation that connects to the Chehalis and Black Rivers.

Chehalis-Reservation oakville Fast-Cast-Bridge
Work began at 8am and was completed the same day for the state’s first Fast Cast Bridge on the Chehalis Reservation. Photo courtesy: The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

With the bridge’s problematic nature in mind, Bryan Sanders, project manager and transportation planner for the Chehalis Tribe attended the National Transportation in Indian Country Conference (NTICC) in Big Sky, Montana in 2019. Here, Bryan heard about Premier Steel and their Fast Cast Bridge System. “I heard Andy give a presentation about the system and I was very impressed with the innovative approach to replacing a bridge and reached out shortly after returning to Washington,” explains Bryan.

Based in Glenpool, Oklahoma, Premier Steel is a full-service structural steel and fabrication provider that began shifting gears to the innovative bridge technology in the spring of early 2019. Severe flooding poured into Northeast Oklahoma, which prompted a question from a friend to the president asking, “You build big buildings all across the country, so why can’t you design a bridge that can go in quickly?” With that question, the idea for the Fast Cast Bridge began.

The Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma installed the first bridge in June of 2019, two weeks after the purchase order was released with tribal employees. The installation took just took four hours to build and three and half hours to pump the concrete. Premier was then asked to present at the NTTOC, where which is where representatives met Bryan. “We believe the Fast Cast Bridge is transformative for rural communities,” states Andy Vanaman, president of Premier Steel, “as well as municipalities, tribes, and counties because it provides a cost-effective, faster solution for an AASHTO-rated designed structure. It can be installed in a short amount of time, and because the structural design of the modular bridge is already complete, it drastically reduces the design time typically required by civil engineers.”

Chehalis-Reservation Oakville Construction-of-Fast-Cast-Bridge
The original bridge on the Chehalis Reservation in Oakville was hazardous and proved problematic for community members. Photo courtesy: The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

Fast forward to October 22 when a local crew began installing the new 40-foot bridge located at 175 Howanut Road in Oakville. The clock struck 8 a.m. signaling start time and by the end of the day, construction was complete. At the time of bidding, the timeframe for a traditional box culvert was a year and a half. The beauty of the Fast Cast Bridge is that it can be fabricated in 8 to 10 weeks, while preparation from start-to-finish happens in a matter of weeks compared to months. This is due to the modular, steel frame allowing for quick and safe completion of projects.

Another major benefit of this type of bridge is that can be installed at a fraction of the cost and time as compared to traditional bridges. “This system created by Premier Steel significantly reduced the cost and time to replace a bridge,” says Bryan, “which typically takes more than a year to complete, and now even longer due to COVID-related supply delays.”

“Having a sturdy new bridge with a clear span underneath will improve water flow from area rivers and avoids the traditional clogging that happens with a traditional box culvert,” adds Andy. “The new bridge will dramatically improve transportation and safety for tribal members and the community at large.”

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The innovative new 40-foot bridge is located at 175 Howanut Road in Oakville. Photo courtesy: The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

“I can’t say enough about how great it has been working with Premier Steel,” expresses Bryan. “The entire process of design, fabrication and installation has been quite flawless. Andy and his team have been outstanding. Communication has been great and all of them went above and beyond when we traveled to Oklahoma to tour the facility and observe a bridge installation in August of this year. We are very grateful for the partnership and friendship that we have established. And the fact that we installed a bridge in a single day!”

Although COVID-19 slowed them down, Premier Steel has gone on to install 10 Fast Cast Bridge systems around the country and has 5 projects currently in design. The innovation of the company provides counties, municipalities, and tribal nations with a cost-effective and efficient solution for repairing failing local infrastructure. The Chehalis Reservation bridge makes history as the first project to be installed in Washington.

More information on The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation can be found on Chehalis Tribe website, and for more information on the Fast Cast Bridge visit the Premier Steel Services website.

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