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EUGENE — U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez, ODOT Director Matthew Garrett and other distinguished officials praised the completion of ODOT’s Interstate 5 Whilamut Passage Bridge on Friday, July 26, at a special bridge-side ceremony.
The event, held in the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park, celebrated the August opening of the largest bridge replacement project in ODOT’s $1.3 billion OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program. A new southbound bridge currently carries I-5 traffic in both directions across the Willamette River; the new northbound span will open next month, restoring the four lanes of freeway traffic to normal.
Joining DeFazio, Mendez and Garrett was Esther Stutzman, Kalapuya elder, who led a traditional Native American dedication ceremony of the new bridge. The new bridge takes its name — Whilamut Passage Bridge [pronounced WHEEL-a-moot] — from the Kalapuya name for the area, meaning “where the river riffles and runs fast.”
Addressing a crowd of more than 150, Garrett said the new bridge will serve as a symbol to the community for decades to come.
“Bridges are the art of connection,” said Garrett. He called the graceful arched bridge “a distinguished landmark that enhances the surrounding landscape and adds value to the communities it connects.”
He noted that the Whilamut Passage Bridge is a model for similar projects around the country.
“Innovative ideas for the nation are coming out of Oregon” for highway and bridge design, said Mendez. He praised the Hamilton Construction Co. team and noted that the new bridge will open to traffic four months ahead of schedule, on Aug. 8.
Officials attending the ceremony took advantage of a rare opportunity to walk on the new northbound bridge before it opens to traffic, enjoying the views that the structure offers at a slower pace than at highway speeds. The distinctive Whilamut Passage Bridge features a graceful deck-arch design, whose arches touch down only once in the river. It serves as a gateway to and from the Willamette Valley and southwestern Oregon and is an important interstate link that is expected to serve I‑5 drivers for the next 100 years.
Aug. 3 community celebration to feature public bridge walk
ODOT will host a family-friendly community celebration for the completion of the Whilamut Passage Bridge on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Alton Baker Park. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of the project, including design enhancements, park improvements and the new northbound bridge. They are also invited to attend the ceremony, which starts at 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 3 is the public’s last chance to walk on the new bridge before it opens to traffic. Because final construction work is still underway, access to the bridge is allowed only to visitors age 16 and older who are wearing closed-toe shoes. For safety reasons, no sandals or open-toe shoes are allowed on the bridge tour, which begins with a six-story climb of a temporary staircase tower.
The self-guided tour of project features in the Whilamut Natural Area is open to all ages.
ODOT encourages visitors to walk, ride their bikes or take Lane Transit to the Aug. 3 event. Free, secure bicycle parking will be provided at the event center near the Knickerbocker footbridge.
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