The Rock Point Bridge spanning the Rogue River northwest of Gold Hill reopened on May 27, following a nine-month closure designed to rehabilitate the historic bridge back to better-than-original shape.
ODOT kept its promise to area businesses by reopening the bridge to one-way traffic ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, widely considered the official start of the summer tourism season. The one-way traffic configuration provides access for drivers traveling eastbound from Interstate 5 exit 43.
The bridge is a key connector that links I-5 traffic to tourism-related businesses like Del Rio Vineyard and the House of Mystery. The span is also a notable feature on the popular Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway.
“We reopened as promised even though there is still some work ahead of us to complete the project,” said ODOT Public Service Representative Dennis Steers. “The contractor will continue working on the bridge rail this summer in a single-lane configuration and finish the remainder of the work under a full closure after Labor Day.”
The $3.9 million rehabilitation project targets the bridge’s damaged deck and side rails as well as cracked concrete beneath the bridge. Prime contractor Wildish Standard Paving of Eugene is using rebar-enforced concrete to replace the bridge’s original concrete rails and urn-shaped balusters and applying a new bridge deck to the nearly 90-year old historic structure.
ODOT distributed detour maps to local businesses and placed detour signs in the area to assist drivers traveling back to I-5 this summer.
The bridge will undergo another full closure shortly after Labor Day weekend to allow the contractor to remove and replace the concrete bridge deck and pave the bridge approaches. According to Steers, this last stage of construction work is expected to take less than two months to complete.
Problems arose earlier this year when more deterioration was found in the historic bridge than the agency had anticipated. Incomplete drawings dating from the bridge’s 1920 construction added to the repair delays.
Once it was apparent the rehabilitation project would not be completed within the original timeline, ODOT made adjustments to reopen a single lane of traffic for the summer tourism season.
The Rock Point Bridge was unveiled in 1920, a time when Oregon’s paved roads totaled only 620 miles and its designer, Conde B. McCullough, had barely settled in as Oregon’s state bridge engineer. McCullough would later go on to leave a legacy of beautiful bridges along Oregon’s coast. Both his trademark aesthetics and efficient, custom-designed spans are present in the Rock Point Bridge.
McCullough illustrated how form could complement function and the nearby landscape. Using a reinforced concrete deck arch, he designed a 505-foot span bridge over one of the rockiest sections of the Rogue River, hence the name Rock Point.
According to Historic Highway Bridges of Oregon, construction was a challenge: “Because of the great depth of water at the bridge location, it was impossible to build falsework under the main arch span. The contractor (Parker and Banfield, Portland) solved the problem by building a temporary wood truss span over the bridge to give support to the forms.”
The bridge’s south approach was replaced in 1953. In 2000, the Rock Point Bridge underwent expedited repair work to strengthen the crossbeams, which lifted a 10,000-pound weight restriction on the span.
For more information about the rehabilitation work, visit the project web site: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/234_rock_point_bridge.shtml.
Conde B. McCullough
McCullough arrived in Oregon in 1916 to teach engineering at Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). A pioneer of the movement to create a well-planned American highway system, McCullough argued that bridges should be built efficiently, economically, and aesthetically. He became Oregon’s state bridge engineer in 1919. His legacy of beautiful bridges lives today and most of his bridges are considered significant landmarks. Historical photographs of Oregon bridges are available online at the ODOT History Center: www.oregon.gov/ODOT/CS/BSS/historycenter.shtml.