A phrase not often heard in today’s political climate became a central theme Thursday at the ceremony to commemorate the completion of the Chamber Way Bridge rebuild in Chehalis: This is what happens when the government gets it right.
Representatives from the local, state and federal levels of government spoke glowingly one after another about how, in the days after the bridge took a critical hit from an oversized load on I-5 in July 2016, party affiliations and egos evaporated as they huddled to form a plan that ultimately led to the erection of a new bridge at least five years ahead of schedule.
State Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) remarked that state leaders don’t always get things right, but in the case of the Chamber Way bridge, everyone involved should feel proud of their efforts.
“For those of you that think state government moves slow, here’s a prime example of something that just throws water on that argument,” Chehalis Mayor Dennis Dawes said later on. “As fast as this project got done, it’s unbelievable … It was amazing how fast the state put together a plan.”
Other political officials that spoke during the ceremony outside the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce included state Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), state Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar and Acting Washington State Department of Transportation Regional Administrator Bart Gernhart.
Alicia Bull, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund and Shari Hildreth, a district director in the office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA 3rd District) also gave remarks.
Most of those officials formed a coalition in the days after the bridge was permanently closed for safety reasons and the span over the southbound portion of I-5 at Exit 79 was demolished.
Orcutt said he was out in the woods at a work site on July 22, 2016, when he received a message from Fund informing him of the situation. Days later, he and other leaders had a general sense of what it would take to rectify the problem, but weren’t happy with a projected completion date of 2023 or 2024.
“We were sitting there and the solution we came up with was, ‘Why can’t we just move it up?’” Orcutt recalled. “The Department of Transportation agreed to look at what that would take and when they came back, everyone agreed. It took some faith and cooperation with leaders from around the state, but I’m really pleased we’re sitting here today.”
The bulk of funding for the project that cost more than $10 million to complete came from the “Connecting Washington” state transportation funding package and from additional funding sources at the federal level.
Quigg Bros. Inc. of Aberdeen won a $10.9 million contract from WSDOT to build the new overpass using a new design-build process that reduced the time and money needed by consolidating the two key processes under the control of a single entity — Quigg Bros.
“A lot of the traffic that travels under the bridge impacts the state and national economies,” Millar said. “But the traffic going over the freeway greatly impacts the local economy. This design-build idea had us do enough engineering to know what we wanted, then we let the private sector come in and help make it happen quicker.”
Days after the crash, the damaged span was demolished and replaced with a temporary metal span. Contractors then built a temporary bridge adjacent to the overpass while constructing the permanent structure.
Though the bridge build is complete save for some road striping and cleanup work, WSDOT isn’t done making improvements to the area of I-5 and Chamber Way.
Scoping is set to begin next year on a project that will add additional vehicle lanes going both directions on I-5 and revamp portions of the Chamber Way area to handle larger amounts of vehicle traffic as the area continues to develop.
In the meantime, car traffic over the freeway has all but returned to normal. It’s not implausible to suggest a large vehicle could strike it again in a way that merits repair or worse, but the odds of such an impact are greatly reduced thanks to the increased durability and load capacity of the new bridge.
“(The bridge) is not idiot-proof, but it is idiot-resistant,” Millar said.