Work on the Pistol River Bridge should be complete by the end of the year, winding up 14 months of repair, reinforcement and resurfacing of the 51-year-old structure.
According to Dan Latham, public information specialist for the Oregon Department of Transportation, the 210-foot-long bridge is undergoing "cathodic protection work," which involves examining and sealing cracks, removing minute debris uncovered after years of wear and tear, and coating the surface with zinc oxide to prevent corrosion. Other work in the $3.6 million project includes strengthening the bridge to better withstand earthquakes and replacing the railings.
"It's inch by inch," Latham said. "It's painstakingly slow work."
He doesn't need to tell that to travelers along Highway 101, who have since last fall had to wait in line for alternating north- and south-bound traffic over the bridge. Flaggers and traffic signals have helped coordinate vehicular passage.
Similar projects has been conducted on the longer spans of the McCullough Bridge over the Umpqua River in North Bend and the Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge in Gold Beach. The south half of the McCullough Bridge alone took more than three years, finishing in 2011, and cost $30 million.
"Over the years, traffic and coastal weather takes a toll," Latham said.
Crews working the Pistol River project 7 miles south of Gold Beach faced a few challenges from the beginning.
The first was the rainstorm of Nov. 20 that flooded the county; the second was in January, when workers found a decomposing human body just south of the bridge. Numerous calls to the Oregon State Patrol to determine if more information has been learned about that have not been returned.
Car accidents have been reported, as well, the most recent being Thursday morning involving a man who drove off an embankment and had to be flown to a hospital in Medford to address his injuries.
"As far as I can tell, everything's going OK," Latham said of work at Pistol River. "It is a long project; people commuting between Gold Beach and Brookings - they notice it."