TRI CITY — On cue, an ambulance raced across the new bridge connecting Tri City with Interstate 5 last week as a Douglas County engineer extolled the span’s benefits.
The two-lane bridge over the South Umpqua River gives drivers a direct route between I-5’s Exit 106 and Old Highway 99 at Wecks Road. The bridge and extension of Weaver Road is the biggest county road project completed in the past decade and will come in at $17.3 million, $7 million under the projected cost.
The county will pay $4 million and most of the remaining funds will come from the federal government.
Until last week, Tri City residents had to drive two miles north to Myrtle Creek or three miles to the south to access I-5.
The bridge opened Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, Smith was pleased to see cars and trucks continually using the bridge.
“We’re happy with our final product. It seems to be getting a lot of use,” Smith said. “I know pretty much everyone that lives down here, they’ve been waiting for it a long time.”
The 825-foot-long bridge was built by Capital Concrete Construction, based in Aumsville near Salem. Its slight S curves were designed to create the most natural connection between Weaver and Wecks roads without taking property from landowners, Smith said. The bridge’s travel lanes total 52 feet in width. There are 8-foot paved shoulders for bicycles and pedestrians.
The weathered steel girders have a reddish appearance because they have been intentionally rusted to create a protective layer against further rust damage. Imprints stamped in the concrete give the supports the look of river rocks when viewed from a distance.
An Ireland Brothers logging truck was the first to go over the bridge after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday. Chuck Ireland, owner of the logging company headquartered just south of the new bridge, said he believes the new access to the interstate will be a boon to business.
“I think the whole community will see an upgrade,” he said. “Anytime you see new access to the interstate you’re bound to see more growth from it.”
The idea of creating a bridge was first mentioned in the county’s comprehensive plan in the early 1980s, but the project began to gain steam when longtime fire chief Bill Leming and timber company owner D.R. Johnson lobbied for the bridge’s creation in 2002. Leming argued the project would shorten emergency vehicles’ response time to freeway accidents. Johnson argued Tri City’s growing population needed a quicker commute to jobs in other towns.
Tri City’s population grew by 11 percent to 3,931 residents over the 10 years ending 2010, according to the 2010 census.
Some Wecks Road residents said they have already tried out the new bridge and are thrilled with it.
Roberta Peterman, 77, said she finds the new route a simpler and safer way to access the freeway, especially when heading north to Roseburg.
“The onramp out of Myrtle Creek is very dangerous,” said Peterman, an artist who sells jewelry at the Henry Estate Winery in Umpqua. “A lot of times I couldn’t get on. I’d have to pull off and stop.”
Willis Weaver, 88, runs a small farm and heads to Roseburg regularly to get supplies. He said he has already used the bridge to get to the freeway a couple of times. He said the bridge was expensive, but worth it. Until its creation, he said he and his neighbors had to drive 20 mph through Myrtle Creek to access the freeway.
“Everybody around here really likes it. It’s so handy,” Weaver said. “I’ll probably use it quite a lot.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or email@example.com.