The 16-foot thermoplastic structure carries vehicle and foot traffic across Bridge Creek on East Canal Road. The span is made from 100% post-consumer and industrial recycled plastic.
A new 16-foot thermoplastic bridge crosses Bridge Creek at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The span is 100% post-consumer and industrial recycled plastic.

New Bridge Leads to Sustainable Infrastructure at Malheur NWR

The new bridge at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is more than a road across the creek. It’s also a bridge to the future of sustainable building.

The 16-foot thermoplastic structure carries vehicle and foot traffic across Bridge Creek on East Canal Road. The span is made from 100% post-consumer and industrial recycled plastic.

The bridge weighs in at just over 19,000 pounds, and was made from the equivalent of 866,542 plastic water bottles. The structure was designed by Coffman Engineers using materials developed by Axion Structural Innovations of Zanesville, Ohio. It was installed by Dietrich Construction of Grants Pass, Ore. The new bridge will support up to 19 tons, a significant increase from the previous 3-ton limit.

The new bridge span rests on rock abutments that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
The new bridge span rests on rock abutments that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

“It’s fantastic that we were able to use recycled materials for a much needed bridge here on the refuge,” said Malheur NWR project leader Jeff Mackay. “Additionally, it brings together modern technology while using the rock abutments that are on the National Register of Historic Places. They were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. We hope the public will enjoy this blend of new and old technology as they enjoy their public lands at the refuge.”

The bridge is open to the public, and is often used by anglers, birders and wildlife enthusiasts, as well as fire response and refuge staff. Karla Mingus, an archeologist with the Service, worked with the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office to obtain approval to mix the new technology with the old.

The project was funded through a Federal Highway Administration Coordinated Technology Implementation Program (CTIP) grant. The goal of CTIP is to provide a forum for vetting and deploying new or underutilized innovations on Federal land transportation projects. It is the Service’s first thermoplastic bridge project.

The thermoplastic composite was first utilized for railroad crossties and recently extended to use on bridges.

“One of the goals behind using these funds and the thermoplastics is to determine if it’s a viable and cost-effective solution moving forward for other bridge replacements,” said Eric Bergey, a transportation program specialist with the Service. “Malheur National Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to test out this project because they have such a wide range of weather and temperature extremes.”

The thermoplastic composite was first utilized for railroad crossties and recently extended to use on bridges. The recycled material has a much longer life span than a traditional wooden bridge, and it also offers a lot of positive features for elements you encounter in the high desert of eastern Oregon. The bridge is:

  • highly resistant to cracking and warping caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays;
  • fire resistant with the ignition point of 662 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • resistant to most acids, salts, wood-boring insects, rot and won’t rust; and
  • virtually impervious to water and maintains structural integrity in humid and wet environments.
The structure was designed by Coffman Engineers using materials developed by Axion Structural Innovations of Zanesville, Ohio. It was installed by Dietrich Construction of Grants Pass, Ore. The new bridge will support up to 19 tons, a significant increase from the previous 3-ton limit.
The structure was designed by Coffman Engineers using materials developed by Axion Structural Innovations of Zanesville, Ohio. It was installed by Dietrich Construction of Grants Pass, Ore. The new bridge will support up to 19 tons, a significant increase from the previous 3-ton limit.
The structure was designed by Coffman Engineers using materials developed by Axion Structural Innovations of Zanesville, Ohio. It was installed by Dietrich Construction of Grants Pass, Ore. The new bridge will support up to 19 tons, a significant increase from the previous 3-ton limit.

Rob Moriarty, a civil engineer with the Service, worked to develop and manage the project. Following the Administration’s lead, the Department of Interior has identified facilitating economic recovery through smart infrastructure as a priority.

Using a recycled material for the bridge helped with that priority. Each year 27 million tons of plastic waste is generated in United States and 90 million tons in the world. According to EPA-Municipal Solid Waste Generation, plastics are only recycled at 7% rate and only 20% of the recycled plastics are in good use.

“The support from the engineering, manufacturing, and construction community helped make this project a reality,” Moriarty said. “The thermoplastic materials are the environmentally right fit to provide a great bridge with long-term sustainable green technology for the Service.”

Article by Brent Lawrence, a public affairs officer in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Northwest Regional Office.

USFWS Pacific NW Region

Conservation in the Columbia Pacific Northwest