Interstate 5 Bridge reopens after overnight problems

Southbound drivers told to expect delays

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter and Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



A roller that helps raise and lower the southbound span of the Interstate Bridge failed during a routine maintenance lift Thursday night. Southbound traffic was halted from about 11 p.m. Thursday to 4:20 a.m. today. Engineers are working today to determine if other repairs are necessary.

A faulty roller on the Interstate 5 Bridge failed early Friday, keeping the southbound draw span open for more than four hours.

And until the problem is fixed, southbound travelers heading from Vancouver to Portland will experience longer delays during bridge lifts, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

ODOT crews worked throughout the night to remove the roller, which came dislodged from its track. Metal rollers help guide the huge counterweights that move the bridge decks up and down during a lift.

The southbound side of the bridge was closed from just before midnight Thursday to about 4:20 a.m. Friday, according to ODOT. A routine maintenance lift went awry when the bridge was lowered and the span did not align with the rest of Interstate 5, stopping 3 feet above the rest of the road, said ODOT spokesman Don Hamilton.

“They quickly discovered that the roller was responsible,” Hamilton said. So in below-freezing temperatures, about a dozen crew members removed the 300-pound roller, according to ODOT.

Bridge engineers later authorized the southbound span to open for river traffic, but ODOT will only be able to raise the bridge at half-speed until the roller is replaced, Hamilton said. Crews will have to manufacture a new one first, and that could take several weeks, according to the agency.

This week wasn’t the first time maintenance crews have had trouble with the southbound side of the I-5 Bridge. Last year, a similar problem caused frequent maintenance lifts and closures for three months. Crews eventually replaced two rollers that had become detached from their track.

This week’s problem was not related to those new rollers, said another ODOT spokesman, Dave Thompson. It was caused by a different roller “as old as the bridge,” which opened in 1958, he said. (The original Interstate Bridge, now the northbound span, opened in 1917.)

Routine lifts occur frequently. Hamilton said that in 2012, there were 155 maintenance lifts, which usually take place at night and last about 20 minutes.

While the I-5 Bridge touches both Oregon and Washington, ODOT maintains the bridge.