I-5 Bridge repairs extended to next week

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Repair work on the Interstate 5 Bridge slowed Vancouver traffic with back-to-back bridge lifts Monday morning, but the job isn’t done yet.

Crews will be back on the bridge next week to replace a faulty part that’s kept the southbound side of the twin drawbridges from functioning at full speed since last month, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

ODOT, which operates and maintains the bridge, is working to replace a roller that broke and was removed Nov. 22. When the span opens, rollers help guide the structure’s massive counterweights as the bridge deck glides up and down.

The agency initially indicated that the new roller would be installed Monday. But after getting the part onto the bridge, crews decided to send it back for a new bearing and additional polishing, said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton.

ODOT built the roller in one of its machine shops. It will go back for more work before final installation, tentatively set for Dec. 23, Hamilton said. That will likely mean additional lifts, and additional delays, on southbound I-5 in Vancouver.

This isn’t the first time ODOT has experienced problems with rollers on the I-5 bridge. Faulty rollers were also at the root of a lengthy repair on the same southbound span in 2012.

The two issues weren’t related, Hamilton said.

“When you’re dealing with a lift span of this age, it requires maintenance,” he said. “And this is part of the maintenance work that is necessary to keep it operating safely.”

The southbound side of the bridge opened in 1958. The original Interstate Bridge, now the northbound span, opened in 1917.

Until the new roller is installed, the southbound span can only operate at about half speed, according to ODOT. That means longer delays for freeway traffic heading from Vancouver to Portland during a full lift.

This month’s work has not affected northbound traffic.