Painting a bridge and replacing a few nuts and bolts doesn?t seem like a hard job ? unless it?s the Thomas Creek Bridge

At 345 feet, the bridge, located just about 10 miles north of Brookings, is the highest bridge in Oregon.

It hasn?t been painted in 13 years, and rusting bolts and steel beams demand attention.

On Thursday, workers with Oregon Department of Transportation and S Painting Inc. were scrambling over and under the bridge, preparing to sandblast and paint the structure.

?The only thing that will stop these men from working are high winds,? said ODOT Project Foreman Jerry Gausnell.

The project, estimated to cost approximately $2.8 million, began several months ago and is scheduled to be completed September 2002.

The project would cost less and take less time if not for strict environmental regulations, Gausnell said.

More than $800,000 of the project will go toward building and operating a giant, enclosed work area that will cocoon the sides and under belly of the bridge so that no dust, sand or paint falls into the creek or trees below.

The 90-foot long by 54-foot wide containment structure will slide on wheels along the top edges of the bridge one section at a time.

?It?s like working inside a rolling warehouse,? Gausnell said.

The air inside the structure will be vacuumed out by giant tubes and stored in a tank. No such measures were taken when the bridge was last painted in 1988. Evidence from that project can still be found on the ground below the bridge, Gausnell said.

?When I was down by the river I found sand from sandblasting and paint chips in the gravel from last time,? he said.

Ray Kranston, project manager for ODOT?s South Coast region, said the bridge will first be sandblasted, then painted using a 3-coat system that includes a zinc primer, an intermediate coat and a final coat of green lead-free paint.

?The real challenge will be painting the two towers that support the bridge,? Kranston said.

Gausnell said a structure similar to the one used to paint the horizontal span of the bridge will be used on the vertical towers.

Throughout the project traffic will be restricted to one lane, with no more than a three- to five-minute delay, Kranston said.

Any major work requiring blocking of both lanes will be done at night, he said. Both lanes will be open with no delays on the weekends from Friday night until late Sunday, he said.