GOLD HILL — About 100 neighbors, business owners and history buffs celebrated the reopening of the historic Rock Point Bridge during a wet and windy ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon.

GOLD HILL — About 100 neighbors, business owners and history buffs celebrated the reopening of the historic Rock Point Bridge during a wet and windy ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday afternoon.

The bridge was closed in the fall of 2009 for a $3.9 million rehabilitation project to repair the damaged deck and side rails as well as cracked concrete beneath the bridge. Designed by Conde McCullough, who created many of Oregon's graceful early highway bridges, the narrow two-lane bridge built in 1920 is structurally safe, but was considered "functionally obsolete" and "in serious need of repair," ODOT officials said.

"We're very pleased to have this project finished and behind us," said Gary Leaming, ODOT spokesman. "This bridge is an historic treasure."

Local car clubs, the Southern Oregon Historical Society and business owners participated in the ceremony marking the return of free-flowing traffic on the now wider and safer bridge. Festivities included a bridge crossing by the State of Jefferson Antique Car Club in which more than 15 cars were displayed, as well as an appearance by Miss Oregon, Stephanie Steers, Leaming said.

Officials had expected contractor Wildish Standard Paving, of Eugene, to have the work done by Memorial Day, but problems arose when more deterioration was found in the historic bridge than the agency had anticipated. Incomplete drawings dating from the bridge's 1920 construction added to the repair delays, Leaming said.

Once it was apparent the rehabilitation project would not be completed within the original time line, ODOT made adjustments to reopen a single lane of traffic for the summer tourism season, he said.

"Any time you break open a 90-year-old structure, you're going to find issues," Leaming said. We couldn't in good conscience justify spending $500,000 (in overtime and other costs) to finish the bridge on time."

One lane of the bridge reopened in time for the Memorial Day weekend and to help area businesses such as Del Rio Winery, the Oregon Vortex House of Mystery and others in the Gold Hill area that rely on summer tourism, Leaming said.

The final eight-week closure that began after Labor Day allowed for the refurbishing of the entire bridge deck and paving the bridge approaches, he added.

"The closure has definitely impacted us," said Wallace. "But we're just ecstatic that the bridge project is finished. It's beautiful."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.