Friday, July 29, 2011

One down, two to go on the George Sellar Bridge

New bike path

New lane
by guest blogger Jeff Adamson

The upcoming AARP magazine names Wenatchee as one of the top five places in the country to retire. The magazine also suggests leaving the rocking chair behind because from skiing and swimming to walking and biking, it’s a place for active retirement.

It was in 1950 that the new bridge across the Columbia River in south Wenatchee opened to traffic, but don’t tell the George Sellar Bridge it’s time to retire. At 61, it just got the first installment on its new $70 million lease on life!  In 1950 2,000 people showed up for the ribbon cutting on the $2.3 million project and not one of them dreamed their new bridge would someday carry more than 50,000 vehicles a day.

A lot has changed over six decades. The bridge is still sound, but getting on, off and across it was and is a challenge. Okay, worse than a challenge.  The access from either end gives Wenatchee Valley residents a taste of Seattle-style, stop-and-go traffic each morning and evening. The sidewalks provided the opportunity to inhale unburned hydrocarbons in addition to the excitement that came with having 40 mph traffic just inches from your elbow.

In 2002, a five-year study attracted a little engineering money to start design work on projects to get traffic moving. Two years later, things got serious for the George Sellar Bridge.  Skipping the politics – the result was funding for $70 million to fix both ends and the bridge itself

Adding an additional eastbound lane and building a new 10 foot concrete and steel cantilever bridge for bicycles and pedestrians turned out to be the logical first project to do so the east and west end improvements would have something to connect to.

For a mere $18 million and 26 months of orange cones, the sidewalks came out, the bridge’s deck and superstructure were reinforced or rebuilt, and the new lane and pedestrian bridge came into existence.  It wasn’t easy. The structure had to now handle the weight and traffic that comes with another lane and to deal with the torque of having a pedestrian bridge outside the superstructure on the south side of the bridge.

The completion of this complex project on time and budget is a real tribute to our bridge office staff. They figured out not only how to rebuild the bridge in place, but how to keep it open through the entire project.  That’s like having your mechanic rebuild your engine – while it’s running!

I’ll be back next month with the second project which is starting on the east end of the bridge. It’s got some novel elements too – We’re going to use part of Fred Meyer’s elevated parking lot for a new road!

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