NEWPORT — Those crossing the Yaquina Bay Bridge this week may have seen the crews inspecting the bridge, descending from the highest points on either side and underneath, crawling on top and underneath the giant beams. In bright orange jumpsuits, the crew traversed from the heights of the bridge and far beneath it, oblivious to traffic, the wind and the view and climbed around to complete their tasks.
It was the final stage of the bi-annual fracture critical inspection on the bridge begun in early April, Mike Goff, Oregon Department of Transportation Region 2 bridge inspector, said. Previously, an under bridge inspection truck, also called a snooper truck, was used to inspect areas of the bridge under the roadway.
Monday through Wednesday this week, the ODOT Rope Access Team worked to reach areas of the bridge the snooper truck could not, “areas far below the roadway near the water and the extreme heights of the bridge above the roadway deck,” Goff said.
“Over the course of the inspection, the inspectors found defects that would be expected on a bridge that is nearing 85 years of service, but no immediate areas of concern,” Goff reported. “On a bridge of this size, there is always a certain level of routine maintenance that must be done on a regular basis, and our local bridge crew based in Newport handles that work. Our inspection teams take great pride in their work and understand what these large coastal bridges mean to the communities they are in and to the state of Oregon as a whole.”
The rope team is a volunteer group of engineers, made up mostly of current and former bridge inspectors, who have been specially trained in rope access techniques, such as repelling and climbing on large bridges with ropes, and free-climbing large and small structures. “All of the team members have regular full-time positions at ODOT and make time in their regular work schedules for five to 10 climbs per year, and an annual training course,” Goff said.
ODOT Public Information Officer Angela Beers-Sydel said, “With a huge project starting, you’ll see more people out there doing all of the various things that are needed prior to construction beginning.”
Long in the works, a three-and-a-half year project to “repair and protect the iconic bridge, increasing its lifespan” is set to begin at the end of June, Beers-Sydel advised. “This is work we’re doing on all of the coastal bridges that need it. We have two projects underway in Lincoln City (Devils Lake Outlet and Schooner Creek) right now, and just finished the Siuslaw Bridge in Florence.”
The project includes replacing the corrosion protection (cathodic protection) on the bridge, repairing damaged concrete and making seismic upgrades. When the project begins, Beers-Sydel said, the east sidewalk will be closed and remain closed for the duration of the project. The west sidewalk will remain open.
“Most work will be under the bridge and at night,” Beers-Sydel said. “It won’t impact traffic much. There will be some lane closures at night, with flaggers controlling traffic.”
The work is loud, she warned, and includes sandblasting, spray coating and loud construction noises like generators. “It’s done mostly at night because it’s easier to move equipment around as needed, and there are fewer people in the construction area.”