Rainier company flies employees into work during Lewis and Clark Bridge closure

A Rainier business had to get creative this week to transport their employees to and from work without sitting in hours-long traffic
Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 5:08 PM PDT
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RAINIER, Ore. (KPTV) - A Rainier business had to get creative this week to transport their employees to and from work without sitting in hours-long traffic, thanks to the Lewis and Bridge closure which began Sunday.

Rightline Equipment is right under the Lewis and Clark Bridge. They have more than 300 employees who help make forklift attachments for companies like Nissan and Caterpillar. All of their work from design to welding and assembly is done on site.

At least half of their employees commute to work from the Longview area but this week, the bridge is closed to cars for improvements. The Washington Department of Transportation are replacing a fractured floor beam and two steel expansion joints that have been worn down. The joints allow the bridge to expand and contract when it’s cold or hot out.

“They’ve been talking about it for several months but about a month a month a half ago is when we knew. First thought was deciding if we stay open. If you do stay open, what’s the best way of transportation? Do you go boat? Do you bus people around? Do you shut down for the week?” Sean Atkins, the HR manager at Rightline Equipment, said.

The closure has turned a typical 15-minute commute into hours.

So, how are people commuting to work and getting where they need to go? There are a few options.

People can drive to the Astoria-Megler bridge and cross over that way or head to Portland to take the Interstate Bridge and back around. The third option is waiting for the Wahkiakum County Ferry that can fit 20 cars at a time.

“Depending on what time they come to work and leave to work, it’s anywhere from three to four hours to get here,” Atkins said.

The folks at Rightline came up with their own solution so their employees could avoid al of that.

“The boss had a crazy idea, maybe we could fly people back and forth with a helicopter,” Atkins said.

They’re renting helicopters for the week, flying employees to and from the Kelso Airport and touching down right on their property. Atkins said it was important for them to take care of their employees and keep their schedule on track.

“We have to do it all ourselves so if we’re not here doing it, it’s just not happening,” he said.

The closure is expected to last until Monday but could also be done as soon as Saturday.