Why Are Steel Bridges Painted Blue In Washington State?

If you have ever driven through Washington State, you may have noticed something peculiar about the steel bridges – they are painted blue!

Steve Woods/TSM
Steve Woods/TSM
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4 Reasons Why Bridges Are Painted Blue In Washington State

As a kid growing up in the Lewiston/Clarkston valley, I remember when the Interstate Bridge over US Route 12 was green and then suddenly it was painted blue.

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I discovered moving to the Tri-Cities that the Blue Bridge that connects Pasco and Kennewick and Highway 395 was also green when it was built in 1951.

By Sumner Caughey - Lewiston/Clarkston bridge, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42712209
By Sumner Caughey - Lewiston/Clarkston bridge, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42712209
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So why did the color change? The Pioneer Memorial Bridge is getting a new paint job and blue is still the color so I thought I'd do a little digging and see why blue is now the preferred color over green.

By Richard Bauer - Pasco Blue Bridge 11-5, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52951256
By Richard Bauer - Pasco Blue Bridge 11-5, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52951256
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Both bridges were originally green in honor of the state of Washington and one person commented on why the WADOT is painting a steel bridge. I thought there had to be a reason so here are 4 likely reasons why steel bridges in Washington are colored blue.

Visibility and Contrast: Blue is chosen for its visibility and contrast against the natural surroundings, particularly the greenery prevalent in Washington. The color makes the bridges stand out, which is important for safety reasons, especially in low-light conditions or inclement weather.

Aesthetics: While functionality is a primary consideration, the aesthetic appeal of the color blue is also taken into account. The choice of blue may complement the landscape and contribute to a visually pleasing appearance.

Snake River Bridge
credit: goggle street view maps
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Corrosion Protection: The paint used on steel bridges serves as a protective coating against corrosion. Blue-colored paint with specific formulations can provide effective corrosion resistance, helping to extend the lifespan of the bridge and reduce maintenance costs.

Tradition and Standardization: Over the years, certain colors, including blue, have become associated with bridges in Washington State. Standardizing the color helps create a recognizable and consistent visual identity for the state's infrastructure.

I went on the WADOT website and discovered that the state uses standard and acceptable colors across the state which explains the blue steel bridges throughout the state.

You can see the complete WADOT color codes here.

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