OAKLAND — For the small group of officials standing on a nearby access road and looking up at the Oakland Bridge on Tuesday morning, it was easy to see why this 95-year-old bridge is due — or perhaps more accurately, overdue — for replacement next year.
Douglas County Public Works Director Scott Adams pointed to the rusted and decaying steel girder, and said it’s one of the biggest problems.
“The steel girder is pretty much the life of the structure underneath and what holds everything up,” Adams said.
It’s just this kind of up close and personal view of infrastructure needs that U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, appreciates.
DeFazio visited the bridge Tuesday with Douglas County Commissioner Tom Kress, Douglas County Public Works and Oregon Department of Transportation officials.
A former Lane County commissioner, DeFazio has been a member of Congress for more than three decades and he’s been involved in transportation issues from the beginning. Today, he serves as chairperson of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
DeFazio played the lead role in securing federal funding for the Oakland Bridge replacement through the Moving Forward Act, and he said funding for additional bridge projects here and around the country is on the way.
“Not much good comes out of D.C. these days, but infrastructure is a good thing and still pretty bipartisan too,” DeFazio said.
Stephanie Bentea of ODOT said the future Oakland Bridge is in the design phase now and is expected to go out to bid for construction in fall 2021.
The current one-lane bridge at the north end of Oakland on Highway 99 links the town to Interstate 5 and to the Oakland transfer station. But it’s seen better days.
“It’s in pretty bad shape,” Kress said, “I don’t even think we’d want to leave it as a walking bridge.”
“We’re down to one lane for a reason. But it’ll be alright, we just have to get it replaced and move on,” he said.
The new and improved version will look a little different. It will be straighter, and wider, with room for two-way traffic and pedestrians.
Kress said the project was paired with replacement of the Conn-Ford Bridge in Melrose. The $30 million twin project includes a $9 million match from the county.
The county has about 300 bridges, many of which were constructed with federal timber revenue sharing during the heyday of logging on federal timberlands.
“A vast majority of our bridges were built in the ’50s and ’60s and this one’s even older than that. They have a lifespan that we’ve far exceeded,” Kress said.
The federal funding DeFazio has secured is vitally important, Kress said.
“We can’t do it on our own,” he said.
Adams listed off other bridge projects ahead. Three bridges under construction are the Dancer Creek Bridge in Camas Valley, Soup Creek Bridge near Loon Lake, and Upper Olalla Bridge.
Other priorities include the Windy Creek Bridge in Glendale and a bigger list of 40 additional high priority bridges. That might seem like a lot, Adams said, but really with 300 bridges at 50-year replacement cycles, the county should be replacing six a year and it’s not able to do it.
“If we keep deferring, we’re coming up to realistically a cliff of what is going to happen with our bridges and how far beyond their lifespan they’ll be,” he said.