Transportation officials grateful for Clark County commuters

Trunnion replacement project on Interstate Bridge continues, but it should not delay traffic nearly as much as last week

The most difficult part of the trunnion replacement project on the Interstate Bridge, at least as far as commuters are concerned, is in the past.

In fact, that work was completed earlier than scheduled. The northbound span of the bridge reopened Friday night. Officials had expected it to reopen on Sunday.

The project is not finished, though.

The nine-day shutdown of the northbound lanes of the Interstate Bridge turned into seven days as crews finished that part of the project early. Photo by Paul Valencia
The nine-day shutdown of the northbound lanes of the Interstate Bridge turned into seven days as crews finished that part of the project early. Photo by Paul Valencia

Commuters should expect to see lane closures and remain ready for delays in the coming days.

This week, there will be two southbound lanes rather than three at all hours. And from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., southbound travelers will be using one lane only.

Also, there will be some short-term closures for both spans of the bridge, with bridge lifts for up to 30 minutes at a time.

Still, with all things considered, transportation officials appreciated the cooperation from the commuters.

“We saw some significant delays, no question about that. When you reduce I-5 into one lane in one direction, you’re going to have delays,” said Don Hamilton, a public information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “With that said, the public seemed to heed the advice to find alternate ways to cross the river or avoid crossing the river at all.”

Officials on both sides of the bridge do not have specific data just yet, but indicators suggest that commuters did their part to help.

“Early numbers saw more than a 50-percent decrease in the number of vehicles traveling across the Interstate Bridge southbound during the bridge closure,” said Tamara Greenwell, communications director for Washington State Department of Transportation.

“The information tells us people were finding alternatives. They were working from home, taking an alternate route, or taking mass transit. Things went well,” Hamilton said. “It lasted a full week, but we got the job done under difficult circumstances.”

A zipper machine moves concrete barriers on the Interstate Bridge southbound span during the midday commute. Photo by Jenny Valencia
The road zipper was used to change how many lanes were going in each direction when the three lanes of the northbound span of Interstate Bridge were closed last week. Photo by Jenny Valencia

The numbers also mean that the months-long campaign to alert commuters what was coming did have a positive effect.

“We tried very hard to get the message out that this was coming,” Hamilton said. “The Interstate Bridge matters an awful lot to Clark County commuters. This was a significant disruption for Clark County commuters. We apologize for the disruptions, but it was necessary to keep the Interstate Bridge functioning properly.”

Greenwell said Clark County commuters did “fantastic.”

Oregon and Washington officials had more than a year to prepare the public for the disruption on the bridge. 

“As an agency, we appreciate Clark County drivers for hearing the message,” Greenwell said. “By and large, enough people changed their travel habits that it wasn’t this huge traffic backup and delay that we could have seen along the I-5 corridor and throughout the region.”

Commuters also adjusted to a major change in the plan when the closure of the northbound span of the bridge was delayed due to nearby fires. 

“Changing plans last minute might have been tough on folks,” Greenwell said, noting that many workers had planned vacations for the original closure dates. 

“When crews had to reschedule, there was a total understanding of the why,”  Greenwell said. “Just shows that folks got the message, and we really appreciate it.”

When the closure did happen, smoke made way for rain and wind.

“None of that was so bad that it held up or delayed the project,” Hamilton said.

In fact, they were thrilled to reopen the northbound lanes for the weekend.

“It was very gratifying we could get the work done,” Hamilton said. “The contractors did a great job on this. They worked very hard and did a very good job. This was an effective project. It came out well.”

He was referring to what was going to be the nine-day shutdown part of the project. Again, the entire project is not over. Hamilton suggested that commuters go to for up-to-date information.