Putting innovative technology to work on a bridge

New approach minimizes delays, creates ride-share opportunity

The Dalles Bridge.
The iconic The Dalles Bridge is 68 years old

Bridge repairs and closures can be an inconvenience – to travelers and truckers, for people who walk and roll, and to the nearby communities and businesses. Thanks to innovative technology and a partnership with a non-profit, ODOT’s Region 4 (central Oregon) team is helping people get where they need to go with minimal delays during a critical bridge improvement project.

Built in 1952, The Dalles Bridge spans the Columbia River between The Dalles and Dallesport, Washington, providing a vital connection between the states. While it was still safe to drive over, our engineers knew it was time to update the bridge’s deck. That, however, requires closing the bridge. In fact, closures of six months or more are not uncommon for a major bridge deck replacement. These closures can throw a real kink into business and pleasure. So the team set to work finding solutions.

ABC but no D for delays

Few of us have heard of “ABC” in construction terms. That’s because Accelerated Bridge Construction, or ABC, is a newer technology, and it’s the method ODOT’s engineers selected to replace the bridge deck. It’s rare because of its complexity and expense, but in this case, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

“It’s not super common,” said ODOT Project Coordinator Korey Kunze. “If we were just going to do the deck in place, it could be done, but we would be closing the bridge for a long time, so we chose accelerated bridge construction.”

A long time for this community of 16,000 – the largest Oregon city along the Columbia outside of the Portland metro area – would have been a 6 – 8 month complete closure. But that just wouldn’t do. 

Let’s use innovative technology

A project team works to replace the bridge deck of the Dalles Bridge.
The project team is using “Accelerated Bridge Construction,” an innovative technology, to replace the bridge deck in The Dalles.

The team responded by choosing the ABC approach. Using innovative technology is core to building a modern transportation system – and that’s one of the agency’s top three priorities in the 2021-2023 Strategic Action Plan.

On the Washington side of the bridge, contractor Hamilton Construction created a pop-up bridge factory that’s the size of about eight football fields. It has the task of creating 113 approximately 30-foot long bridge deck sections.

While the factory is busy turning out new bridge sections, another team is busy on the bridge cutting out entire sections of the deck. They use huge hydraulic lifts called “translation machines” to lift out the sections of the old bridge deck, and mega-trucks haul the pieces away.

With all of this complex work going on, the team has managed to keep bridge closures limited to Thursday nights through Monday mornings, and only between Labor Day 2021 and Memorial Day 2022.

But that still leaves three days per week of detours for road users… and that’s where Commute Options jumped in to help.

Partnership provides options

The Region 4 team turned to another partner to help reduce the stress of detours: Commute Options of Bend.

“We help folks bike, walk, carpool, and ride the bus to reduce the amount of single-occupant vehicles that are buzzing around in our region,” said Kim Curley, community engagement coordinator with Commute Options.

People who need to get across the river via the detour on the weekends go to GetThereOregon.com, where they can find others who are making the same trip at the same time. The more people who log their trips, the more options there are for carpooling. Making alternative transportation easier to access is one of the agency’s 10 outcomes in the Strategic Action Plan. Getting folks used to sharing the ride is a big step in the right direction.

Curley said 212 Get There Oregon users have logged trips in the service area in the last seven weeks. Those web users have logged 479 trips, with 16% of the trips being carpool, which Curley said is a high percentage compared to usual numbers.

“We don’t know the details, but hopefully some of these users are meeting up for those trips across the Columbia River during detour times.”