In Oregon, Willamette River Bridge project showcases STEM studies in action

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    A keenly interested group of young visitors got a rare close-up view of bridge engineering and construction when they toured the active work zone of the Interstate 5 Willamette River Bridge project in Eugene and Springfield, Ore. The Oregon Department of Transportation replaced two spans more than 1,700 feet long – the newly named Whilamut Passage Bridge – as part of a project valued at more than $200 million.

    Since the start of construction in August 2009, 33 groups have toured the massive project. The groups ranged from public works employees to senior citizens, and included STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program students from Churchill High School in Eugene. OBEC Consulting Engineers, contractors for ODOT, provided this special-interest group with a real-world look at a STEM profession.

    It was a perfect day for viewing multiple on-site activities: Work was underway on two phases of box girder construction right next to some completed box girder spans; the Bidwell deck-paver was ready for service on the adjacent span.
    Standing on the work bridge that is just above water level, students listened to tour director Brad Larsen, engineer at OBEC, explain the profile of the bridge’ s arches, which are not true arches – their profile is too flat.
    Brad Larsen, OBEC construction manager, said the students asked great questions and made several very intelligent observations. OBEC continues to be involved with the Churchill High School STEM program by offering student internships.
    The Whilamut Passage Bridge was the largest bridge replacement in ODOT’ s $1.3 billion Oregon Transportation Investment Act III State Bridge Delivery Program. It came in under budget and was completed four months ahead of schedule. The second span opened to traffic in mid-August 2013 following a community celebration.