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Whilamut Bridge set to open early, under budget

Whilamut Bridge set to open early, under budget

Many of America's bridges do more than help vehicles get from one side of a river to another; they connect communities. And the new Whilamut Passage Bridge over Oregon's Willamette River is a terrific example. In 2011 a new southbound span opened. Now, the northbound span is opening an impressive four months ahead of schedule and under budget.

I was happy to be on hand to help U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio and Oregon DOT (ODOT) Director Matthew Garrett celebrate the northbound bridge's opening last Friday, and even happier to see what a terrific job everyone has done on this arch-deck span. And by  "everyone," I mean the architects, engineers, and construction crews as well as the local design enhancement committee and the artists who made sure that the Whilamut Passage Bridge reflects the culture and heritage of the Willamette Valley and its original inhabitants, the Kalapuya.

Artist's rendering of the bridge against a photographic background of the Willamette River

For people living in Eugene and Springfield and everyone traveling Interstate 5, the new bridge means far less time stuck in traffic. The original I-5 bridge over the Willamette River, built in 1962, was not designed for the number of cars and trucks the region sees 50 years later. The two spans double the number of travel lanes, helping drivers and passengers get where they're going more safely and conveniently.

From a national perspective, we also see a project like this as part of a larger transportation network that links communities and economies from Mexico to Canada. President Obama has set an ambitious goal for the nation to double our exports by 2015.  To do that, we need to keep freight moving as efficiently as possible along major corridors like I-5.

Photo of F.H.W.A. Administrator Victor Mendez touring the Whilamut Bridge construction site
FHWA Administrator Mendez tours the Whilamut Passage Bridge work site. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Cully Prociw for Lane Today

One other thing that excites me about this bridge is the innovative Construction Manager General Contractor (CM-GC) process by which it was built. This approach gets the contractor involved early in the process to help avoid problems down the road. Thanks to CM-GC, ODOT is delivering the bridge and its many benefits significantly ahead of schedule.

So, well done, Oregon!  Thanks for showing the nation how to put innovation to work.

Victor Mendez is Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

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Good job. I've been watching this bridge from inception until (nearly) completion. Too bad the CRC got so far sideways that it was impossible to reconcile between all the stakeholders. We need that tiny bit of infrastructure to be upgraded.

Congratulations on this project! Will people not using motor vehicles be able to cross the river via this bridge or will pedestrians and bicyclists be excluded, or be swimming?

There is no access to or provisions for pedestrians and bicyclists on these bridges; however, the Eugene area has one of the best developed trail networks for alternate transportation modes of any city in the U.S., and there is a separate crossing dedicated to pedestrians and bicyclist about 200 yards downstream of the new southbound I-5 bridge. This separate crossing also provides fantastic profile views of the deck arch design!

The Whilamut Passage Bridge itself only serves I-5. However, Eugene-Springfield is blessed with an excellent multi-use path system along the Willamette River Greenway. This system includes FIVE bicycle/pedestrian-only bridges over the Willamette River, one of which is immediately parallell to the Whilamut Passage bridge. And, the Whilamut Passage project included substantial improvements to the multi-use path system under the bridge and to the surrounding park land impacted by the project.
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