Galena Bridge taking shape |

Galena Bridge taking shape

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

The Galena Creek Bridge project no longer looks like Nevada’s answer to Stonehenge. One of the massive arches is finished and the other is nearly complete, with work on the roadbed for the southbound lanes well under way.

It’s looking like a bridge.

The bridge is the most visible element of the 8.5 mile extension of I-580, which will complete the freeway between Reno and Carson City. It’s also the most expensive and challenging element of the $440 million project.

Challenging enough that the first contractor hired to build it pulled out, saying erecting those arches would be too risky.

And it’s the most controversial – especially to Southern Nevadans who see it as a waste of money when they have to battle near gridlock every day.

The 1,725-foot-long bridge soars 300 feet above Galena Creek at its highest. When completed, it will have six lanes carrying an estimated 30,000 cars a day.

Nevada Department of Transportation Engineer Rick Nelson admitted the bridge won’t completely replace the old road through Pleasant Valley. He said on extremely windy days, big trucks will be barred from the bridge.

“They’re not going to be allowed in high winds,” he said.

Nelson said the bridge will total more than 77,000 tons of concrete and steel when completed sometime late in 2011. That weight comes despite the fact the huge columns supporting the arches and twin roadbeds are hollow to reduce weight. The inside of the arches, in fact, include a stairway so inspectors can get a good look at the structure’s condition when they inspect it every two years.

He said forming the staircase inside the concrete arches instead of installing stairs afterward saved nearly $1 million.

“All of our bridges have access inside,” Nelson said, pointing out the access doors being built into the roadbed 300 feet above the creek.

He said it also has state-of-the-art seismic features to resist any earthquakes. The bridges on the project will have a built-in de-icing system that sprays potassium acetate on the road during freezing weather.

During a tour of the bridge and the rest of the project this past week, Nelson said Fisher Engineering and CC Myers, the bridge subcontractor, have about 300 workers on the job. He said the contractors have found several ways to save money. They built their own concrete plant at the north end to provide consistent quality concrete for the job. In addition, he said all the aggregate used in that concrete is being mined along the freeway route.

Work is proceeding on all nine structures along the route. After Galena Creek, the largest and most challenging is the Galena Forest Bridge, which will carry the freeway over the geothermal field at Steamboat Springs.

Engineers had to design a way to keep the hot geothermal steam coming out of the ground from corroding the concrete pilings supporting the 918-foot structure. They built the columns on pads with a limestone footing to counteract the caustic geothermal water and steam and coated the columns to prevent moisture from reaching the concrete.

That project, like the creek bridge, is about a third complete.

Nelson said the contractor is on schedule to finish the job in another 450 days. He said the second Galena Creek Bridge arch is going up faster and more smoothly because the crews now have experience with the process.

The final steps in the process will be to tension the steel cables stretching the length of the bridge so the road doesn’t sag, and remove the steel that supported it during construction.

After that 120-foot-high erector set of metal beams and poles is gone, crews will remove the wall of dirt that now fills the creek bed, then take out the 44-foot-diameter, 400-foot-long arch built to allow Galena Creek to continue to flow.

Magruder said plans are to restore the creek to its original state during construction.

Work also is proceeding on the Bowers Mansion interchange at the north end of Washoe Valley and several of the other structures. Three small structures – St. James Parkway, Brown’s Creek and Parker Ranch Road – are finished and awaiting pavement.

But Nelson said the Galena Creek Bridge is the key to completing the project on schedule.

“When the bridge is done, the project is done,” he said.

When complete, Magruder said the new freeway will greatly increase capacity and eliminate the all-too-frequent accidents in Pleasant Valley.

It will also be much quicker for commuters because they won’t have to stop at the Mount Rose traffic light and the speed limit will be 65 instead of the current 50 mph on old U.S. 395.

“This will cut at least five minutes off the trip,” he said.