VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Innovative engineering techniques will cut the planned three-week closure of the Interstate Bridge's northbound span to as short as one week.
The possible two-thirds reduction in repair time could mean a $1.4 million bonus for the contractor, Christie Constructors of Richmond, Calif. The $2.87 million contract contains a $100,000-a-day incentive to finish work in less than 21 days and a $100,000-a-day penalty for exceeding three weeks.
The daily incentive was the driving force behind Christie developing a top-down method of suspending the span's 700-ton counterweight during the closure. That system enabled the company to shave 11 days off the project schedule, said Don Wagner, Region 1 manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Not all of the incentive will be a windfall for the company. Tom Walsh, executive director of Tri-Met, said some of the bonus money will repay Christie for what it spent developing the quicker work method.
But unexpected problems or bad weather still could push the project beyond seven days.
"The first week, the week of Sept. 16, the bridge will be closed. We are confident the third week will not occur," Wagner said Thursday. "The second week -- the middle week -- is still pretty iffy."
Wagner said the incentive payment would be offset by the $1 million to $5 million a day in savings the Portland area's economy will see without traffic congestion tying up businesses, commuters and freight.
And each day the bridge is open will save $102,000 in costs to, among other things, run free C-Tran buses and Amtrak commuter trains, add extra police for traffic enforcement and run operation centers on both sides of the Columbia River.
The 80-year-old northbound span is closing for repairs that will replace a cracked axlelike steel structure, or trunnion, at the top of the northbound span's north tower. The trunnion has a pulley, or sheave, over which cables run as the bridge is lifted.
Vancouver Mayor Royce E. Pollard said Christie deserves the motivating but hefty daily bonus. Had the contract contained a $10,000-a-day incentive, he said, "We'd be looking at a 21-day closure."
Despite the shorter time, Pollard said the closure still should be taken seriously. "This is still an emergency, still a crisis."
Portland City Commissioner Charlie Hales, who heads the city's traffic division, said alternate transportation options for commuters will remain in place for the shorter closure.
"Try the train, try the bus, get together with a car pool," he said. "Every day we fail to respond to the challenge of the bridge" will find traffic snarled and drivers unhappy, he said.
The huge planning effort to reduce traffic problems during the closure "absolutely has not gone to waste," Walsh said. "Whether the bridge is closed 21 days, 15 days or seven days, every one of the steps in the mitigation plan still will be needed, just for a shorter time."
Port of Portland managers expressed relief at the news. Port officials expect congested access to Portland International Airport for passengers and air-cargo vehicles, and delays for shipping-container trucks at Terminal 6.
"Reducing that by two-thirds is wonderful news, not only for us but I'm sure for every commuter in the region," said Darrel Buttice, a Port of Portland spokesman.
Claude Sakr, project manager for ODOT, realized the closure time could be dramatically reduced when engineers saw what Christie had been able to erect during the Labor Day weekend. ODOT engineers knew of Christie's innovative technique, he said, but did not know whether the method would work.
But the steering committee met early Thursday about the progress and decided to announce the shorter repair period in a hastily called news conference in Vancouver.
The top-down suspension system has allowed Christie to erect almost all of the falsework to hold the counterweight during five- to 20-minute nighttime closures during the past couple of weeks. The last parts will be added after the Sept. 16 closure.
In the contract, ODOT specified the 21-day closure because companies it consulted in drawing up the bid said the work would take 19-25 days. The three-week period was chosen because ODOT needed to put out a realistic proposal that companies would bid on, Wagner said.
But Sakr said at least two problems in addition to bad weather could extend the repair work beyond a week. ODOT is concerned that metal pins in the counterweight could be corroded and difficult to remove and that the platform on which the parts sit has been damaged by old lead paint.
"Nobody should get euphoric yet," Walsh said.