SMOKEY POINT — Crews are wrapping up work on the I-5 Stillaguamish River Bridge, and the state Department of Transportation hopes to have both sides of the busy highway back to three lanes by the end of next week.
An $8.7 million project to re-deck the bridge, clean and repair the framework, and repave the approaching highway started in July and is finishing 18 days ahead of its four-month schedule.
“The weather window worked out perfectly for us,” WSDOT spokesman Tom Pearce said. “We’re glad to get the bridge reopened, and we know the public will be happy to have both directions of I-5 back to three lanes.”
Crews replaced the entire concrete deck of the 81-year-old southbound bridge. They also installed four new pieces of steel framework before cleaning, sandblasting and painting the entire frame, most of which was in good condition, Pearce said. The department of transportation expects the bridge to last decades longer now that it has been cleaned and repaired.
During the repair work, traffic was rerouted to the northbound bridge, narrowing each direction to two lanes and constricting traffic between Smokey Point and Stanwood. As of Friday afternoon, WSDOT planned to have the southbound bridge open Saturday morning, after re-striping the lanes Friday night and into early Saturday.
The northbound bridge is expected to regain its third lane next week or soon after, Pearce said. It was originally designed to carry up to four lanes of traffic, and will be striped to do so after this project. First, workers need to remove concrete barriers set up during construction and re-stripe the third lane. The barriers are scheduled to be removed, rain or shine, between Monday night and Thursday morning.
The striping will require a dry spell, so the date for that work is less certain, but the third lane will be opened as soon as possible, Pearce said. In the meantime, orange barrels will replace the concrete barriers.
“It’s just not safe to have people over there with the lanes all mixed up,” he said.
The construction area will remain a 55 mph zone for a while longer. Though it won’t be visible from the road or interfere with traffic, workers need to get under the bridge to remove platforms and tarps that were set up during the project to prevent any debris from getting into the Stillaguamish River. It’s unclear how soon the highway will be back up to full speed — 70 mph — because some of the remaining work is weather dependant.
Drivers also can expect some ramp closures next week. The southbound off-ramp to Highway 530 and the southbound on-ramp from 236th Street Northeast will close from 10 p.m. Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday, and the northbound I-5 on-ramp from Highway 530 will be closed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night from Monday until Thursday.
“A major project on I-5 like this one is a huge undertaking, but it needed to be done. This will extend the life of the bridge for at least 50 years,” Regional Administrator Lorena Eng said in a WSDOT statement Friday. “To everyone who had to deal with the lane reductions for the past three-plus months, we appreciate your patience.”