MEGLER — After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Ohio State University, Mike Kronander wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do.

He worked as a construction and culvert inspector and a pavement and roadway designer, but he hadn’t quite found his niche.

“I was looking, gearing more toward field work and I didn’t really want to do the office thing anymore, and I always wanted to do bridges, too,” Kronander said.

Last week, about seven years after graduation, Kronander’s latest gig had him dangling from ropes more than 100 feet above the Columbia River.

Kronander and a crew of fellow engineers have been using the ropes throughout the summer to inspect parts of the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The purpose of the inspection, required every two years by federal law, is to probe for signs of fracturing that could lead to a bridge collapse. No such signs have been detected.

Burgess & Niple, an Ohio-based architecture and engineering firm, adopted the rope technique more than 30 years ago and has used it to inspect the Astoria Bridge since the 1990s. The through-truss bridge spans more than 4 miles and towers nearly 200 feet above the river.

“It’s not always finding new things. It’s sometimes just checking to see if the old things have changed drastically,” said Ben Barkan, an engineer.

While this year’s report is not complete, the previous look at the Astoria-Megler Bridge in 2016, which cost the state more than $250,000, noted some recommendations for routine maintenance but no critical issues. Some minor deformations and rusting were noted, and a few steel beam anchor bolts were missing.

“I am not afraid at all to drive across that structure,” said Dale Poorman, an engineer.

Oregon is one of the top 10 states in the country in terms of keeping up with bridge inspections, Poorman said. (Oregon manages the Astoria-Megler Bridge under an agreement with Washington state.) Other bridges in the country have required more regular inspections due to serious issues. One bridge in Oklahoma, for instance, requires daily check-ins and is scheduled to be fully replaced.

“Oregon’s pretty aggressive on taking care of their structures,” Poorman said.

The federally mandated inspections began in the aftermath of the 1967 Silver Bridge collapse in West Virginia. A small defect a fraction of an inch deep into the suspension bridge caused it to fail, killing 48 people during rush-hour traffic.

The “fracture critical” inspections often involve heavy machinery that require traffic shutdowns. Since the engineers are specially trained to use ropes to access fracture critical points, it negates a number of headaches, said Bruce Johnson, state bridge engineer for the Department of Transportation.

“We would probably have to do the inspection at night. We could do it with lights and things like that, but it’s not as good as doing it during the day,” Johnson said.

Poorman has been a bridge inspector since 1985. When he first started, he tied Manila rope around his waist to keep from falling — no harnesses, lanyards or much else in the way of climbing gear.

“It was pretty, pretty rude climbing at that time,” Poorman said. “It’s come so long.”

While not the windiest in Oregon, gusts on the Astoria Bridge can present challenges for the climbers.

“One of the main concerns is how much space you have between the bridge itself and the shoulder in the lane, is those ropes blowing into traffic,” Kronander said.

Some steel parts the engineers use to position themselves on the Astoria Bridge are relatively hefty. As a result, climbers have to be more careful when wrapping lanyards around them. Steel bridges can also force climbers to deal with animal habitats, including wasps, and can be slippery under certain conditions.

Of course, there’s always the danger of falling. The Astoria Bridge, nearly 200 feet tall at its peak, is tall, but “anything over 30 feet is going to kill you, really, if you fall,” Poorman said.

When the engineers inspected the bridge in July, a number of passers-by called 911, fearing that they were protesters, suicidal or thrill-seekers. Poorman recalls one driver in the 1990s cursing at him because he thought he was protesting a passing naval ship.

Despite the dangers and quirks, the engineers appreciate the sights and size of the decades-old bridge.

“It’s one of the biggest structures I’ve been on,” Kronander said. “It’s really, really interesting and magnificent.”

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