Biggest OTIA III bridge project opens to traffic as program winds down
With great community fanfare, the new northbound structure of the Interstate 5 Willamette River Bridge project in Eugene and Springfield opened to traffic in early August, ahead of schedule and under budget. With a total contract value of $204 million, the Willamette River Bridge project is the largest in the $1.3 billion Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA) III State Bridge Delivery Program, which is beginning to wrap up after repairing and replacing hundreds of Oregon bridges and making significant contributions to the state’s economy.
The recently completed northbound structure and previously completed southbound span feature an elegant deck-arch design in which the arches touch down in the water only once. The open top deck provides long vistas for drivers on I-5, and the single in-water touch points also minimize disturbance to river dwellers such as salmon.
The new bridge, named by stakeholders as the Whilamut Passage Bridge, replaces the original freeway bridge built in 1961, which was weight-restricted after cracks were found in the structure in 2002. These weight limits required heavy-haul trucks to detour 200 miles out of their way and imposed additional costs on businesses. A temporary bridge completed in 2004 kept I-5 open for freight and other vehicles until a permanent bridge could be built.
The project used an innovative construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC) delivery method. CM/GC uses an integrated team approach, applying modern management techniques to the planning, design and construction of a project to control time and cost, and to assure quality for the project owner. Using CM/GC allowed the contractor to open the bridge faster than expected and provided better outcomes to the community.
The communities celebrated the bridge’s opening in two events. On July 26, Congressman Peter DeFazio and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez joined other dignitaries to officially recognize the bridge’s national significance as an example of cost-effective and sustainable project delivery. Administrator Mendez spoke of “innovative ideas for the nation coming out of Oregon” for highway and bridge design. A week later, hundreds of citizens gathered for a community event to experience the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of walking across the deck of the new northbound structure.
OTIA III wrapping up
Ten years after the passage of OTIA III by the Oregon Legislature, the bridge program is nearing completion. The program, designed to fix cracked bridges that threatened the efficient movement of goods on the state’s highways, has completed construction on 264 bridges. Just seven bridges remain under construction, including the I-5 Willamette River Bridge project, where work will continue for a number of months. The program is coming in on time and under budget.
The bridge program was a proactive initiative to update crucial links in the transportation infrastructure to keep Oregon’s economy competitive and create thousands of private-sector jobs. The enormous scope and compressed timetable of the bridge program required the participants to work cooperatively and think creatively, spurring numerous innovations in construction techniques, environmental stewardship and community engagement.