Maybe I’m a little callous. After all, I’ve driven Interstate 5 the length of Washington state and on into Portland countless times (really, I don’t want to know). But this past week, I took a slightly different approach to my journey to and from the Rose City: I viewed it through my Engineering News-Record-colored lenses. And what a sight there is.
• The construction reminders all started when I entered Seattle from the north and noticed, yet again, the cranes towering above what was old Husky Stadium. Those yellow cranes remind us that just a few miles east of I-5 an entirely new Husky Stadium is under construction next door to a brand-new light rail station. A corresponding bored tunnel is under construction, connecting the university station with tracks to downtown Seattle.
• A mere stone’s throw from the stadium (if you have a Jake Locker-sized arm, that is) the floating bridge was closed for the demolition of the 50-year-old Medina overpass as part of the new State Route 520 project. The weekend closure provided an estimated 50 dump trucks of concrete demolition debris from the overpass deck.
Now that the Medina overpass is gone, crews can start building concrete supports for the remainder of the new Evergreen Point Road lidded overpass, with completion expected in the next 18 months.
At the same time, again in a completely unrelated situation, divers were fixing two damaged floating bridge cable connections, issues discovered during routine inspections. Crews discovered damaged hardware connections on the west end of the floating bridge where 58 anchors tie to the bed of Lake Washington. Working in water 30 feet deep, divers repaired the connections.
• On my way east of Portland, I traveled Interstate 84 and took another look at the Oregon Department of Transportation’s first-ever top-down bridge construction. The detour highway brings drivers just feet from the new bridge and the twin 250,000-pound gantry cranes that span 90 feet each.
As crews replace a section of I-84, the top-down method eliminates the need for a majority of in-water work at a river confluence point (the Sandy River empties into the Columbia River there) while placing a total of 49 steel girders for both the westbound and eastbound spans. The project doesn’t impede traffic, has a relatively small working footprint and certainly provides a different look to bridge construction in the Pacific Northwest.
• Finished with the quick venture east of Portland, I took the Morrison Bridge (it can be fun to choose a different bridge each time) over the Willamette River, connecting downtown Portland with east Portland. With the bridge now open again, the project to replace the dangerous-when-wet steel grating (read: it rains a lot in Portland and steel gets awfully slippery) will likely finish this month.
In what has become a trend for Portland’s bridges, the steel grating deck will give way to a fiber-reinforced polymer deck, providing a lighter, grippier surface for vehicle traffic on the bascule bridge.
• To cap off the ENR-inspired viewing, my trip back north into Washington gave me the opportunity to yet again contemplate the Columbia River Crossing project, the proposed new bridge spanning the Columbia River connecting Portland and Vancouver, Wash. As bridge styles, heights and funding have certainly defined the public discussion for the last few years, construction there remains years away.
At least for years to come I’ll have plenty to view on my trips to Portland.
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