A massive project to rebuild a portion of the Interstate 5 Bridge was put on hold Thursday out of concerns that evacuees from Oregon wildfires would overwhelm the region’s freeway system.
The postponement was announced late Thursday by the Oregon Department of Transportation.
The closure of the northbound span of the Interstate 5 Bridge had been scheduled to begin at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and last for nine days. The project would replace parts in the lift mechanism in the south tower of the 103-year-old northbound span.
The project has been in the works for more than two years, timed to coincide with lower traffic levels and river flows in the Columbia River. A new date for the project has not been determined. ODOT and the Washington State Department of Transportation will be reaching out to contractors and the U.S. Coast Guard to discuss the new schedule, according to an ODOT announcement.
“ODOT and our many partners have put a lot of work into this project over the last few years and it absolutely needs to get done,” said Rian Windsheimer, ODOT manager for the Portland area. “But this closure would have created additional congestion and right now we need to keep the highways moving for evacuees and emergency responders.”
The $13 million project involves replacing lift span parts, some of them 103 years old, in the south tower on the northbound bridge, which opened in 1917. A similar project took place in 1997 on the north tower on the northbound span.
Everything had been moving according to schedule prior to this week’s unprecedented eruption of wildfires, which have led to evacuation orders affecting more than 500,000 people in Oregon.
The pieces were all in place: new trunnions and sheaves to replace the worn-out parts of the lift span, temporary falsework to support the bridge and counterweights, a barge-mounted crane to hoist the parts to the top of the tower and a pair of “zipper” machines for the moveable barrier that will allow the middle lane of the southbound span to function as a reversible rush hour lane.
There had been no last-minute hiccups, according to Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Don Hamilton.
Until the fires broke out this week.
“For those able to stay put, the best choice in this wildfire crisis is to stay off the roads,” the ODOT statement said. “We need to prioritize the roads for evacuees and emergency responders.”