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State OKs temporary bridge funds.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

The prospect of worsening cracks both in local freeway bridges and in the state's sluggish economy has vaulted two bridge projects on Interstate 5 in the Eugene-Springfield area to "do it now" status.

Dean Fuller, local project manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said the Oregon Transportation Commission has allocated $38.6 million from the state's bridge fund to build temporary freeway bridges across the McKenzie and Willamette rivers at the north and south ends of the metropolitan area.

If everything goes smoothly - the project requires several environmental exemptions and permits from local, state and federal agencies - construction could begin by the end of the year and be completed in 12 to 18 months.

The temporary spans will remain in use until permanent structures can be built, which will take several more years and could cost as much as $100 million.

The urgency stems from "not knowing when that 'fatal' crack is going to come along that means we have to take all the traffic, or at least all the trucks, off I-5 through the area," Fuller said. "Economically, that could be catastrophic."

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has called for increasing vehicle license and title fees to raise money to rebuild the state's badly deteriorating bridge system, putting thousands of people to work and boosting the state's economy.

The state estimates that it will take $4.7 billion during the next decade to keep up with repair or replacement of substandard bridges.

Already, superheavy loads - primarily those that weigh more than 105,500 pounds - have been banned from both of I-5's McKenzie and Willamette river crossings in Lane County. Since March, northbound trucks have been diverted onto Highway 58 and then east to Highway 97 in Central Oregon. Southbound loads leave the freeway at Highway 34 near Corvallis, then travel down Highway 99W through Monroe and Junction City to Belt Line Road, where they head east to Highway 97 by way of I-105 and McKenzie Highway 126.

The temporary bridges will be strong enough to allow even the heaviest trucks to remain on the freeway.

For the Willamette River crossing, ODOT will build a four-lane bridge to the east of the existing bridge, starting just south of the Centennial Boulevard overpass and ending just north of the Glenwood interchange.

Farther north, where the freeway crosses the McKenzie near Armitage Park, ODOT will build the temporary bridge between the existing bridges.

"We'll build a two-lane detour close to the northbound side for southbound traffic and keep northbound traffic on the existing lanes, doing whatever repairs we have to on that bridge," Fuller said. "That one's kind of a shrunk-down version of the Willamette bridge - easy to design, easy to build."

The temporary bridges will be superior to the existing bridges in some ways, he said, sitting on steel-reinforced concrete columns drilled 20 feet into the bedrock. The existing bridges rest on huge concrete pads that don't meet modern earthquake standards.

However, unlike permanent bridges, the temporary structures will be paved with asphalt instead of poured concrete, Fuller said, a concession to speed and cost.

If the cracks in the existing bridges - inevitable with age but accelerated by the unforeseen volume and weight of today's truck traffic - continue to worsen as rapidly as they have in the past, the state might have to lower the weight limits on many bridges to 80,000 pounds. That would mean forcing nearly one-third of truck traffic onto detours. Alternatively, breaking up loads to meet lower weight limits could increase the number of large trucks on the road by 30 percent to 50 percent, ODOT officials have said.

Freeing up money for the Eugene-Springfield area bridges means delaying other projects around the state "and puts a lot of pressure on a lot of people," Fuller said.

"Normally, the design and bidding process would take two to three years, and we're trying to push it through in seven months," he said. "It creates a lot of stress - when you work too fast, it's easy to make mistakes, and mistakes can cost a lot of money. I just hope we're thinking of everything."

The next step toward approval of the bridge projects should be complete by mid-June, Springfield city planner Greg Mott said. Because several supports of the bridges fall within the protected Willamette Greenway zone, ODOT must be granted an exemption that allows their construction.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and federal fish-and-wildlife agencies have to give their OK regarding wetlands and other environmental issues.

The Springfield Planning Commission will take up the Greenway request on Tuesday, followed by a joint meeting with the Eugene and Lane County planning commissions on June 3 and final action on the request by the elected officials of the three local governments on June 18. However, he doesn't anticipate an adverse ruling on the request.

"For one thing, it's temporary, and when the bridge comes out, ODOT will do a lot of restoration of the area," Mott said. "It's also possible that the permanent bridge could have some different design - like a suspension bridge - that would mean no (interference) with the river at all."

At this point, anything's possible, Fuller agrees.

"I've already heard talk about making the (Willamette) bridge some kind of 'signature' bridge for the area," he said.
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Title Annotation:Deteriorating Interstate 5 river crossings in the Eugene area will be replaced; Transportation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 14, 2003
Next Article:Legislation restricting health plan up for vote.

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