Smooth ride for I-5 closure

Bridge construction completed more than a day ahead of schedule




UPDATE: Interstate 5 is flowing in Vancouver after work was completed about midnight.

“Our contractor did a brilliant job of planning this work so they could maximize every second the interstate was closed,” Heidi Sause said this morning. She is a public information officer for the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“Things went very smoothly. It was an incredible day.

“Northbound was open about 11:20 p.m. and both directions were fully opened just after midnight.”

ORIGINAL STORY: Washington State Department of Transportation said its goal was to reopen Interstate 5 in time for the Monday morning work commute.

“But if everything goes well, it should be reopened for the Sunday drive to church,” said Allen Hendy, WSDOT project manager, standing on the empty stretch of the interstate on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

In fact, it was even earlier than that. At about 11 p.m. Saturday — after The Columbian’s press time — WSDOT announced that it had opened the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 and was to open the freeway to southbound traffic by midnight.

As he surveyed the construction scene along the closed section of freeway at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Hendy happily announced that work to place 12 monolithic concrete girders over the interstate was well ahead of schedule.

The placement of the girders, and the closure of I-5, was one of the largest construction components of the Salmon Creek Interchange Project, a $133 million effort to remake the northern convergence of I-5 and Interstate 205.

The work will eventually result in a bridge to carry Northeast 139th Street over the two freeways.

Hendy, who has worked on the project since 2004, said the sight of the work being completed swiftly “definitely is a good feeling.”

“This is the biggest part, really, because it required all of this to be closed,” Hendy said.

No ‘carmageddon’

Since the announcement of the closure, there was the typical concern that the shutdown of a major roadway would result in “carmageddon” gridlock.

As of Saturday afternoon, that concern started to wane. And carmageddon became the monster-that-wasn’t.

“When that’s the case, and people say, ‘Why were you worried?’ — it’s because we have drivers to thank,” said Heidi Sause, spokeswoman for Washington State Department of Transpor

tation. “The construction here is one piece of the story, but the other piece is the whole picture of drivers’ staying informed.”

Sause said Southwestern Washington drivers are typically very good at staying informed. The department made traditional announcements as well as using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to interact with the public. Neighborhood associations got in on the information campaign, letting folks know of the closure with door-to-door flyer handouts.

As a result, it appeared most people stayed off the road on a Saturday that featured warm weather and a major parade in Portland.

As of Saturday night, no accidents had been reported as a result of the closure. And at its worst, Interstate 205 could be described as “crowded.”

Sause said the department continuously “monitored” areas where congestion looked likely to crop up. Traffic control signals, for instance, were altered throughout the day to improve the flow of traffic.

Maintenance time

A boon to the department from the closure came in the opportunity to perform routine maintenance on the stretch of highway without cars zipping by workers.

Abbi Russell, spokeswoman for the department, said crews began work at 4 a.m. Saturday morning.

“They’re doing as much work as they can,” Russell said. “This is the opportunity to get months of work done in a day” and spare drivers future lane closures.

Efforts included patching and pavement repair, bridge repair, tree and vegetation cleanup, road-striping and street light repair.

“They had two shifts working around the clock out here,” Russell said.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547;;