ASHLAND — More than two years of remodeling work on Ashland's southernmost span across Interstate 5 is coming to an end as crews wrap up the final phase by erecting signs, an Oregon Department of Transportation official said.
"It took a long time, but I think it was worth the wait," said Laree Smith, who has crossed the bridge almost daily since work on the bridge began in July 2010.
Smith, 60, lives a few miles outside of town on Highway 66 and commutes to work in Ashland on weekdays.
"It's beautiful," she said, adding the newly installed traffic signals adorning either side of the art-deco style bridge help the flow of traffic.
With new video-detection traffic signals, two travel lanes, a center turn lane, bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides, the interchange is safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.
The video-detection signals read the flow of traffic in real time, reducing the amount of time vehicles spend waiting at red lights. The more common loop-system signals, which operate through sensors in the pavement, are being phased out in the state, Leaming said.
The intersection on the bridge's western end also features Southern Oregon's first dedicated bike signal, which hangs like a mini traffic light above the southbound on-ramp to I-5. The signal is for bicyclists on Ashland Street traveling east.
"Heavy turning movement" on the west side of the bridge warranted the bike signal, and ODOT will be monitoring its use and success, Leaming said.
"Drivers just need to be aware that it's much different than before the signals were fired up," Leaming said.
The traffic signals were turned on Oct. 29, he said.
"Overall, I think it's a very safe environment and good-looking interchange," Leaming said. "It has nice aesthetics, beautiful landscaping and I think it really reflects the community."
Bernadette Walter, 65, of Ashland, said the bridge's design, railings and color are "overkill."
"It looks nice, but they spent a lot of money on it," she said. "I don't like that they put the lights there; I don't think they needed to."
While fueling up at the nearby Arco station, she said the new raised median that extends west from the bridge on Ashland Street makes it harder for her to pull into the gas station unless she approaches it traveling east on Ashland Street.
Arco owner Paul Newcombe said he expressed opposition to the median when the city of Ashland was considering the project.
"I'm just glad they are finally done," said Ken Khosroabadi, who owns the Texaco station across the street from the Arco.
The final cost of the project, which included lowering the interstate's roadbed to improve vertical clearance for large trucks, is $10.9 million, Leaming said. Included in that figure is $1 million in unforeseen costs to replace the span's rotting deck, which crews didn't discover until January. In 2010, ODOT estimated the project would cost $12.8 million.
ODOT officials originally planned to have repairs to the old span wrapped up in April, but pushed that deadline back to September after discovering the rotting deck.
The original plan for the project was for the contractor to widen the bridge by about two traffic lanes, scrape off the top layer of pavement and pour a new surface layer of concrete above the rebar embedded beneath the road.
"We're very glad to have it finished, and we appreciate people's patience through some of the setbacks and noise," Leaming said.
In March, loud night work from demolition of the deck drew several complaints from residents in Ashland.
"It's a gorgeous bridge," said Ron Camp of Independence, noting that it's the state's gateway bridge for northbound travelers using the interstate. "I am happy to see that it's done, though. I've been watching them work away at it for the last couple of years."
The project is funded through the Oregon Transportation Investment Act, which is ODOT's $1.3 billion program to replace and repair hundreds of bridges in the state while boosting economic growth.