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New Willamette River Bridge reaches halfway point ahead of schedule
Willamette River Bridge reaches halfway point
Community tours the new southbound bridge.
Community tours the new southbound bridge.
When work began on the Oregon Department of Transportation's largest bridge replacement — the $201 million Interstate 5 Willamette River Bridge in Eugene-Springfield — crews anticipated that the first of the project's two bridges would be complete in October 2011. Because of project innovations and favorable weather, the southbound bridge recently began carrying traffic early, a full two months ahead of schedule.
 
To commemorate the project's halfway point, community members, elected officials and media gathered on Aug. 18 to admire the completed bridge, both from the construction work bridge below and the structure’s deck above, and to hear remarks from agency leaders, policy makers and community dignitaries. Part of ODOT's $1.3 billion OTIA III State Bridge Delivery Program, the Willamette River Bridge project has contributed to the revitalization of the area's economy and was even hailed as a “job creator” at the event by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.  
 
“This project put hundreds of people to work. The money's being recycled in the local community,” said DeFazio at the opening event.  
 
What looks like an effortlessly graceful bridge today was once a construction challenge that ODOT and its contractors embraced. Located between two cities; crossing a set of railroad tracks, a four-lane boulevard and a river; flanked by two parks; and spanning nearly 2,000 feet, the Willamette River Bridge southbound structure was no small feat to build.
 
To help tackle this challenge, ODOT brought on 20 Lane County-based contractors and subcontractors, putting $49 million to date back into the local economy. But this project’s reach is statewide. ODOT’s prime contractor hired Oregon-based companies almost exclusively, employing 70 local companies and injecting $73 million into the state economy.
 
“These figures are great for a project this size!” said state Rep. Terry Beyer. “Improving our state's highway infrastructure will pay economic dividends for decades to come.”
 
Construction began in 2008 on the deck-arch bridge, ­whose design reflects the local community's desire for a visually striking structure. The arches touch down in the water only once, posing challenges for the contractor but making the bridge environmentally friendly. This minimal disturbance to the river helps protect its habitats and fish and animal populations. But it's not only creatures that benefit from this design: river recreationalists do, too. In the summer, when water levels are at their lowest, the pier descends onto a natural island in the middle of the river. So where rafters, kayakers, tubers and boaters once had to dodge the original bridge's five piers, they now can float a waterway free of obstructions.
 
Local, state and national elected officials have supported the project with financing and advocacy. Community members from Eugene and Springfield have been involved since the beginning, working with project leads on the bridge's design aesthetics, and the Kalapuya, the Native Americans who have lived in this stretch of the Willamette Valley for more than 10,000 years, also provided guidance.
 
“I'm so happy I've been able to contribute to bringing back the spirit of our people to this place,” said David Lewis, a representative of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, at the ceremony. “This project is giving us the opportunity to share the legacy of our ancestors through interpretive designs and bring back a native presence to a place where it was once lost, which means a lot to me and the tribes.”
 
After speeches from U.S. Rep. DeFazio, state Rep. Terry Beyer, ODOT managers, Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg, Eugene Councilor Alan Zelenka, and tribal representatives Esther Stutzman and David Lewis, Tom Lauer, ODOT Major Projects Branch manager, declared the southbound structure open to foot traffic. Community members, media and dignitaries then toured the complete but not-yet-open-for-vehicle-traffic bridge. (It opened to vehicle traffic on Aug. 29.)
 
“When this bridge is complete, it will facilitate the movement of the next four to five generations of I-5 users,” DeFazio said. “That's a great achievement.”