Relics in the river

Under the new Interstate 5 Whilamut Passage Bridge, clusters of eroding concrete and moss-covered walls are all that remain of a once-definitive structure for the city of Eugene: the millrace. In the 19th century, mills and factories would often crop up along the same fast-moving segment of river, because before the harnessing of steam and electricity, millraces transformed the rushing water into power.

As with any of its highway projects, ODOT surveyed the proposed construction site before beginning work. Given the significance of the millrace, the agency then commissioned research and a report on the millrace from specialty subcontractor Heritage Research Associates.

The millrace was built in 1851 by Hilyard Shaw, an early Donation Land Claim settler who lived along the banks of the Willamette River, to power a single sawmill. Over the next 30 years, more than a dozen additional mills and factories sprang up along Shaw's millrace to process the abundant local crops and timber. It provided local industries with hydropower for more than 70 years, but with the advent of electric power, industrial development along the millrace declined, and the last water-powered industrial user on the millrace closed in 1928.

Recreationists still found many uses for the millrace. Even when the waterway was at its industrial prime, university students and townspeople ice-skated over its frozen top in the winter and boated down its streams during the summer. The millrace became such a pivotal aspect of student life at the University of Oregon that in the 1940s and 1950s, students helped spearhead the effort to save the then-dry millrace. They succeeded in 1958, with the university and city deciding to restore the millrace's flow by installing pumps. Until 2009, the University of Oregon maintained the pumps to use water from the millrace to cool its facilities heating plant.

As a historical artifact, the Eugene millrace is distinguished by the continued existence of a diversion dam and intake - arguably the most important aspects of a millrace's operation. These aspects of the millrace are no longer functional, but they elevate it to the status of "industrial archeological site," with the remains meeting the National Register of Historical Places' requirements.

The role of the millrace in Eugene's history is documented on an informational kiosk the bridge program established near the site of the ruins.

Historic form and future function

The bridge program took extra care when repairing the Winston Bridge, an emerald-color three-span steel bridge near Roseburg whose high-profile design makes it an especially valuable community asset. The bridge was designed in 1934 by Conde B. McCullough, a well-respected engineer of Romanesque and Gothic-inspired bridges nationally known for their architectural beauty.

The Winston Bridge needed two upgrades: to its bearings and its cross members. Due to the bridge's age, the existing bearings had become frozen, so the bridge could no longer expand and contract as easily in an earthquake or in response to heavy loads and changes in temperature. Given the limited space on this historic bridge, the bearings need to be custom made from steel to fit and to match the bridge's original building material.

Beyond the seismic retrofitting, the bridge program wanted to make the bridge easier for trucks, motor homes and other oversize vehicles to negotiate. The lowest cross members - the beams between the arches - were removed to bring the vertical clearance up from 14 feet to 17 feet. To ensure that the bridge would maintain its strength, the upper cross members were reinforced and a fresh coat of emerald-green paint was applied so they matched the bridge's current color.