Oregon’s Coastal Bridges… Where Engineering, Environment, and Art Meet

Cape Creek Bridge north of Florence, Oregon was designed by Conde McCollough and built during the early 1930s.

Combining form and function, Cape Creek Bridge in Oregon is an example of how highway bridges can move vehicles, provide beauty, and fit into the natural environment.

With Earth Day 2015 coming up on Wednesday, I stopped to think about the battles we fought during the 70s to protect the environment. One of the toughest was against the highway lobby—bankrolled primarily by the oil industry. “Build more highways!” it and its allies screamed. Buried under a burgeoning population of automobiles, local and state transportation agencies usually agreed. Moving cars and trucks, not people and goods, was the objective. Most traffic engineers believed that their sole task was to move vehicles from point a to b as quickly and efficiently as possible. And they did their job extremely well. Nothing got in the way, including established communities, farmlands and valuable natural habitats. It was the bulldozer era of ‘pave Paradise and put in a parking lot.’ (Joni Mitchell)

In the mid to late 70s, I was working with a community group called the Modern Transit Society (MTS) that was fighting to bring light rail transit to Sacramento, California. The City Traffic Engineer was adamantly opposed to the idea. More dollars for mass transit meant fewer dollars for highways, and the Engineer, along with his counterpart in the County, had roads and freeways planned everywhere. My role with MTS was to oversee political strategy. At one point, relations became so tense between the traffic engineer and me that he would walk out of a room when I walked in. Eventually we won. Today, Sacramento has light rail lines stretching throughout the city and county.

Bridges built at the time, and also during the 50s and 60s, reflected the mania for moving cars. Function, not form, was what mattered. As a result, large ugly concrete structures with minimal aesthetic appeal often dominated urban and even rural landscapes. Bridge construction hadn’t always been that way.

The coastal bridges of Oregon reflect an earlier era. Many were constructed in the 1920s and 30s when Highway 101 was being built to connect coastal towns. Oregon was extremely fortunate to have Conde McCullough at the helm of the highway department’s bridge division for much of this time. Part civil engineer, part architect, and part artist, he believed that bridges should be built economically, efficiently, and aesthetically. His vision lives on today, as any trip down the Oregon Coast quickly demonstrates.

Conde McCollough served as Oregon's state bridge engineer from 1919 to 1935, following which he spent a couple of years designing bridges along the Pan American Highway in Central America.

Conde McCollough served as Oregon’s state bridge engineer from 1919 to 1935, following which he spent a couple of years designing bridges along the Pan American Highway in Central America. (Photo from information sign on Highway 101.)

Today I am going to feature one of McCullough’s creations, the Cape Creek Bridge located on Highway 101 north of Florence, Oregon, and a small park that lies below the bridge. Later, I will do posts on two of his other bridges plus a modern pedestrian and bike bridge in Redding, California that is breathtaking.

Cape Creek Bridge north of Florence, Oregon on Highway 101.

Another view of the Cape Creek Bridge, this time including Cape Creek. It had been raining hard, as reflected by the creek’s muddy waters.

Looking out from a span of the Cape Creek Bridge onto the small ocean cove the creek empties into.

Looking out from a span of the Cape Creek Bridge onto the small ocean cove the creek empties into.

Cumulous clouds outline sea stacks in Cape Cove on the Oregon Coast.

Small islands in Cape Cove outlined by the dramatic sky. Sea gulls are gathered in the lower left corner.

One of the sea gulls takes flight. I was walking along behind it, posed to takes its photo when it flew.

One of the sea gulls takes flight. I was walking along behind it, poised to takes its photo when it flew. There are three things I like about the picture: the wings, the gulls left foot as it runs, and the reflection.

The tide rolls onto shore at Cape Cove on the Oregon Coast near Florence, Oregon.

The tide rolls in to Cape Cove.

Low tide exposes the beach at Cape Cove off of Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast.

And the tide rolls out.

Cape Creek Bridge in Lane County on the Oregon Coast.

A final perspective on the Cape Creek Bridge. The bridge is 619 feet (188.6 meters) long and was designed to look like a Roman aqueduct. NEXT BLOG: Earth Day

37 comments on “Oregon’s Coastal Bridges… Where Engineering, Environment, and Art Meet

  1. Love love love!!! I have spent many days basking on this beach with this glorious bridge looming over us! Besides hiking up to the lighthouse or playing in the surf, one of my favorite things to do was wade up the creek under the bridge. So many perfect beaches to lounge and relax. A great post! Loved learning a bit about the history! 🙂

    • Thanks, Christina. You are obviously quite a fan of the bridge, creek and cove. I missed hiking up to the lighthouse. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful on the coast. My dad lived just up the road from there for a while and both photographed and painted it. Next time. 🙂 Curt

  2. Really like your shots from beneath the bridge and thereabouts — the tide and all. And what a tribute to Code McCullough. Since I have no engineering background, I truly appreciate all that goes into bridge building even without knowing what all really does go into it. The mystery will remain with me forever, but the appreciation for the aesthetics of it are real and grounded in my love of art and architecture. Thanks for sharing this. Looking forward to future posts.

  3. Very interesting to read this. As someone who had a vested interest in the transit development in Sacramento, you bring knowledge and insight to the table. I’ve read some on urban sprawl and how communities were designed for automobiles, not walkers (e.g., residential areas separate from shopping areas), and that design has led to a decline in human activity and contributed to obesity. It’s nice to see suburbs now changing things up. Building commercial businesses within walking or biking distance from people’s homes. Hopefully we’ll continue to see more of the same.

    • Urban sprawl and the automobile went hand in hand Carrie, each supporting the other. Lower densities made transit too expensive. People not being able to get transit had to rely more on their automobiles. In an interesting footnote, General Motors, working together with Standard Oil and a number of other companies that benefited from rubber tired vehicles helped in the demise of transit. The companies bought up rail transit lines in the 1940s and then tore up the rails, forcing people into autos and busses. –Curt

  4. Very interesting to read this. As someone who had a vested interest in the transit development in Sacramento, you bring knowledge and insight to the table. I’ve read some on urban sprawl and how communities were designed for automobiles, not walkers (e.g., residential areas separate from shopping areas), and that design has led to a decline in human activity and contributed to obesity. It’s nice to see suburbs now changing things up. Building commercial businesses within walking or biking distance from people’s homes. Hopefully we’ll continue to see more of the same.

    Great pics as always.

  5. Pretty soon we should be completely paved over [I exaggerate for effect]. Back in those days [this was the ’80s] though I was on the board of directors of the Wilderness Islands; a group comprised of reps from Audubon, Green Peace, National Wildlife, etc. My project as a newbie was to help protect a scrub area directly over an aquifer – little did I know just how difficult that was going to be. We even had a woman up in Tallahassee lobbying for us. Every once in a while I go by that little patch of scrub and beam with pride – because it is still there!!!!

  6. I agree with your assessment of the gull photo. I really like that one.

    Interesting to read this post after watching John Oliver’s presentation of Infrastructure last night with Tara. (We had watched his latest on Patents, and thought to ourselves “This guy makes boring stuff interesting. What else looks really boring? Ah, Infrastructure!”) The bridge is gorgeous as many bridges are, and I am always a fan of the use of arches in architecture. And he totally pulled off the aqueduct look.

    • Right Crystal, the point is that infrastructure doesn’t have to look ugly or boring. Form and function can work together to create beauty and meet practical needs. They can also be planned to minimize negative environmental impact. –Curt

  7. Being from France I love bridges, so your post hits home. Also I must say that I’m sorry for having missed a few of your posts while I’m busy with a little series from A to Z on my own blog. Only a few more letters to go…

    • Evelyn, you have totally disappeared from my reader. So I’ve missed your blogs as well. I’ll have to go searching and see what Word Press did with you… But welcome back. —Curt

  8. The environment has been fortunate to have you as its friend and Oregon was fortunate to have had the services of Mr. McCollough. But Mr. McCollough was unfortunate in his choice of mustache. 🙂

  9. Can’t say I’m over the moon about bridges of any kind, though I acknowledge the pleasing aesthetic of the Cape Creek Bridge compared to most modern monstrosities, but that seagull photograph is an absolute stunner! Fabulous photo!
    Alison

  10. I love bridges. I always have. I suppose part of it is that I grew up in an area where bridges tended to be smaller, and attractive. Covered bridges. Stone bridges. My favorite was the Melan Arch bridge in Waterloo, Iowa. I roller skated over that a time or two — strictly against parental orders, but I was staying with grandpa, who tended to be a little looser about such things. Mom took me shopping. Grandpa took me to see the railroad roundhouse. You get the picture. 🙂

    I must say, one of my favorite Texas bridges is a brand new one, over the Houston ship channel. I drive over it every time I head north, and I always experience the same feelings I had when I’d drive the Golden Gate: high bridge praise, indeed. One of the best things the designers did was paint it the color of lemon chiffon pie. I couldn’t find a photo that captured the experience of driving over it, or the sense of delicacy imparted by the color, but this will do. It’s called the Fred Hartman Bridge, and some of the nighttime photos are wonderful.

    As for freeways, I’m no fan, but getting from point A to point B often require them around here. Even the first moves toward light rail have been fraught. The lines run from places like the Medical Center to the art museums. That’s fine, but it does nothing to ease traffic problems for anyone who’s trying to get into the city. On the other hand, the supporters who owned land along the chosen routes seemed happy enough. 🙂

    • We have a lovely covered bridge about three miles from where we live. And I agree Iowa has some beauties. Peggy and I wandered around in the southern part of the state where my dad was raised, Redding. We also visited Winterset where my great grandfather had lived and where John Wayne was born. And of course we had to admire the Bridges of Madison County! Your Texas bridge is beautiful. Be sure to check out my blog on the Redding bridge a week from Monday. As for the Golden Gate, I have been across it many times and enjoyed it from many perspectives, including sailing under it. The man who built it took me to lunch once. He was interested in our Sacramento Light Rail project. The man who has been responsible for building a new approach to the bridge is a friend. We travelled through Europe with he and his wife a couple of years ago. So, I have great fondness for the bridge. –Curt

      • For a while, I followed a blog maintained by a fellow who was a master electrician, and whose job was keeping the electrical aspects of the Golden Gate in order. If I can remember his name, I’ll send a link. He took the most amazing photos of the inside of the bridge, and the view from the top when he was up there doing things like — changing lightbulbs!

      • Can you imagine hanging up on one of those high beams changing a light bulb? Makes me nervous to think about it. And folks are always up there painting the bridge. They get done with one painting and it is time to start over.

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