New I-5 bridge over Willamette ahead of schedule

New I-5 bridge over Willamette ahead of schedule »Play Video

EUGENE, Ore. - A mammoth bridge replacement project in Eugene is well ahead of schedule: Drivers will be able to cross the first leg of the new Willamette River Bridge on Interstate 5 before the end of this summer.

"We are on schedule to get the southbound lanes open to traffic before Labor Day weekend this summer," said Karl Wieseke, Willamette Bridge Project Manager.

He said that is well ahead of the Oregon Department of Transportation's October deadline to open the first span.   

There are two reasons for the speed: one, the main contractor added more crews to the project this past fall and winter; and two, even with all the rain, bad weather has not delayed the work.

Construction began in the spring of 2009.  In late August 2011, the first span opens to traffic. 

Next winter, work will start on the twin northbound bridge.

By the fall of 2013, ODOT said the project will reach the finish line.

Before work can start on the Northbound span, the temporary bridge has to come down, a process that will take 4 to 6 months. 

Wieseke said most of it will be reused.

"We'll incorporate those back into a bike-pedestrian bridge that we'll be building later on in 2013," he said.

Not that all parts of this job go quickly. Wieseke joked that some of the concrete work has to take its time.

"So we'll actually be watching concrete shrink at that point, so it's kind of  ... It's like watching grass grow, I guess," he said.

But for a project not even past its second anniversary, managers say it couldn't go much smoother.

Wieseke said the new bridges will be wide enough to carry three lanes in each direction to meet long term traffic needs.

The cost of the full project is $201 million.