Transportation crews race to finish projects ahead of I-5 Bridge closure


A bus on shoulder project and new ramps and signage aim to ease congestion on I-5 southbound during the nine-day northbound closure in September

VANCOUVER — With just over three weeks to go until a nine-day closure of the northbound Interstate Bridge span on I-5, crews on the Washington side are scrambling to complete southbound traffic improvements.

The massive project to replace a trunnion on the northbound lift span which has developed a hairline crack has been scheduled for several years. Earlier this month, the massive replacement parts were barged down the Columbia River to the bridge for staging ahead of the closure.

A barge carries replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge northbound span up the Columbia River on Aug. 4. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation
A barge carries replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge northbound span up the Columbia River on Aug. 4. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation

The closure, which runs Sept. 12-20, will shift all traffic onto the southbound span of the bridge, with a concrete divider moving to allow two lanes for morning traffic headed south, and two lanes for northbound traffic in the afternoon.

In the meantime, Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) crews have been working feverishly to complete two projects on I-5 southbound ahead of the bridge closure.

A project to slightly narrow the three vehicle travel lanes on I-5 southbound in order to create a new bus-on-shoulder lane wrapped up Aug. 14. Chris Selk with C-TRAN says they are currently finalizing a training schedule for drivers, which will begin soon.

This graphic shows how the new Bus on Shoulder lane on I-5 Southbound from 99th Street to I-5 will work. Image Courtesy Washington Dept. of Transportation
This graphic shows how the new Bus on Shoulder lane on I-5 Southbound from 99th Street to I-5 will work. Image Courtesy Washington Dept. of Transportation

The goal is to begin Bus on Shoulder operations in time for the bridge project. This will allow buses to utilize the newly created lane during periods of high vehicle congestion in the three remaining travel lanes.

C-TRAN says they will be putting out more information soon on how the shoulder lane will work, including a video demonstration. Buses will be able to use the shoulder from Highway 99 in Hazel Dell to the bridge once traffic speeds dip below 35 miles per hour.

WSDOT crews are also finishing up a new Active Traffic Demand Management (ADTM) system for I-5 southbound, which includes new signs designed to warn of lane closures, and introduce variable speed limits for that stretch of the freeway.

New metered ramps are also being installed on southbound on-ramps at 78th Street, Main Street, SR-500/39th Street, Fourth Plain Boulevard, and Mill Plain Boulevard. The one existing meter at the SR-14/Washington Street on-ramp is also being upgraded.

When the meters are on, traffic will be able to use the shoulder for queuing, in order to maximize available space.

Thor Alvarado, right, with ODOT discusses plans to barge replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge up the Columbia River on Aug. 3. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation
Thor Alvarado, right, with ODOT discusses plans to barge replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge up the Columbia River on Aug. 3. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation

WSDOT Spokesperson Tamara Greenwell says they expect to begin activating the system in early September.

“It’s important to point out that it’s not like flipping a switch,” said Greenwell in an email. “The system is dynamic and only turns on just before traffic begins to stack up on the Interstate, so even after the ‘go live’ date, travelers will not see the system activate until we see congestion along the interstate.”

The trunnion replacement project is anticipated to create traffic backups that may stretch up to four miles and last up to 16 hours a day, according to Oregon’s Department of Transportation (ODOT) which has set up an informative website about the project.

The sheaves, which measure 12 feet in diameter and weigh up to 19,000 pounds each, were custom manufactured in Georgia and shipped to the area.

“You can’t buy parts off the shelf for a 103-year old bridge anymore,” says ODOT Spokesman Don Hamilton. “You have to have them specially made.”

More lane closures ahead of the project

Beginning Friday, Aug. 21, ODOT will begin building the support system under the bridge lift span, and prepare the median of I-5 at either end of the bridge for crossover traffic. They’ll also be installing signage on both I-5 and the Glenn Jackson Bridge along I-205 notifying drivers of the closure.

Massive sheaves and other replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge northbound span are barged up the Columbia River on Aug. 4. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation
Massive sheaves and other replacement parts for the Interstate Bridge northbound span are barged up the Columbia River on Aug. 4. Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation

During the upcoming week, drivers should watch for the following travel impacts:

  • I-5 north will close at the Interstate Bridge from 1-3 a.m. Sat., Aug. 22. To travel north, take the Hayden Island off-ramp (Exit 308) to I-5 south, follow to I-84 east and then to I-205 north. Detour signs will direct travelers. Bikes and pedestrians should follow the signed detour to use the sidewalk on the southbound structure.
  • Nighttime lane closures Thursday, Aug. 20 through Sat., Aug. 22 on I-5 at the Interstate Bridge in Washington and Oregon. Single lane closures will begin at 8 p.m. and crews could close a second lane at 10 p.m. All lanes are scheduled to open by 5 a.m. the following morning.
  • Nighttime lane closures weeknights from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. on I-205 in both directions in Oregon and Washington at the Glenn Jackson Bridge.

Following the conclusion of the full northbound span closure in September, there will be some ongoing intermittent lane closures while crews work to clean up the equipment used for the project, and restore the lanes to their usual configuration. Check InterstateBridge.org for continuing updates and details on the project.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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