Putting the finishing touches on Rock Point Bridge

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The historic Rock Point Bridge is on track to fully reopen by late October, once the finishing touches on the yearlong project are completed.

Rock Point Bridge spans the Rogue River northwest of Gold Hill and is a key connector that links I-5 traffic to tourism-related businesses like Del Rio Vineyard and the House of Mystery. The span is also a notable feature on the popular Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway.

The full bridge closure, which started after the Labor Day weekend, is necessary to refinish the bridge deck and pave the bridge approaches. However, ODOT kept its promise to area businesses and the Gold Hill community by reopening the bridge to one-way traffic prior to the Memorial Day weekend, the official start of the summer tourism season.

The partial opening accommodated tourists traveling from Interstate 5. Construction continued on the west bridge rail during this period, working behind a concrete barrier.

“The contractor got a lot of work done during the summer,” said ODOT Public Service Representative Dennis Steers. “The last stages of work would be impossible without a full closure given the width of Rock Point Bridge.”

The $3.9 million rehabilitation project targets the bridge’s damaged deck and side rails as well as cracked concrete beneath the bridge. Prime contractor Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene is using rebar-enforced concrete to replace the bridge’s original concrete rails and urn-shaped balusters and applying a new bridge deck to the nearly 90-year old historic structure.

Difficulties arose earlier this year as more deterioration was found in the historic bridge than ODOT had anticipated. Part of the cause was incomplete drawings dating from the bridge’s original construction in 1920, adding to the repair delays. When it became apparent the rehabilitation project would not be completed within the original timeline, ODOT adjusted the plans to reopen a single lane of traffic for the summer tourism season.

ODOT distributed detour maps to local businesses and placed detour signs in the area to assist drivers traveling back to I-5.

Bridge history
The Rock Point Bridge was unveiled in 1920, a time when Oregon’s paved roads totaled only 620 miles and its designer, Conde B. McCullough, had barely settled in as Oregon’s state bridge engineer. McCullough would later go on to leave a legacy of beautiful bridges along Oregon’s coast. Both his trademark aesthetics and efficient, custom-designed spans are present in the Rock Point Bridge.

McCullough illustrated how form could complement function and the nearby landscape. Using a reinforced concrete deck arch, he designed a 505-foot span bridge over one of the rockiest sections of the Rogue River, hence the name Rock Point.

According to Historic Highway Bridges of Oregon, construction was a challenge: “Because of the great depth of water at the bridge location, it was impossible to build falsework under the main arch span. The contractor (Parker and Banfield, Portland) solved the problem by building a temporary wood truss span over the bridge to give support to the forms.”

The bridge’s south approach was replaced in 1953. In 2000, the Rock Point Bridge underwent expedited repair work to strengthen the crossbeams, which lifted a 10,000-pound weight restriction on the span.

Conde B. McCullough
McCullough arrived in Oregon in 1916 to teach engineering at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). A pioneer of the movement to create a well-planned American highway system, McCullough argued that bridges should be built efficiently, economically, and aesthetically. He became Oregon’s state bridge engineer in 1919. His legacy of beautiful bridges lives today and most of his bridges are considered significant landmarks. Historical photographs of Oregon bridges are available online at the ODOT History Center: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/CS/BSS/historycenter.shtml.

For more information about the rehabilitation work, visit the project web site:
www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/234_rock_point_bridge.shtml.

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