Further refinements to the construction schedule of the Lewis and Clark Bridge rehabilitation project have reduced the total number of planned nighttime closures of the span linking Longview, Wash., and Rainier, according to Washington State highway officials.

At an open house Tuesday in Longview, the Washington State Department of Transportation announced that the project will require 140 nighttime closures, instead of the 200 originally planned. The start of the project has also been pushed back to January 2003 to avoid the holiday season.

The department will host an open house in Astoria from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chambers at City Hall to share information with the public.

The $33.6-million, three-year project will replace the deck, add seismic upgrades, update lights and guardrails and make other improvements to the 73-year-old structure. Replacement of the deck will be done with the installation of pre-formed panels, but will require the complete closure of the bridge for several hours at a time.

The department was able to substitute single-lane restrictions for some of the complete closures to reduce the total number of nighttime closures from 200 to 140, officials said.

The nighttime closures will be spread out over the length of the project, which is currently scheduled for completion by December 2005. The actual dates of the closures won't be set until the project is under way, but the contractor will be required to provide timely warning. The closures will occur from 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.

WSDOT has also arranged for expanded service by the Westport Ferry. The ferry will run during the nighttime closures, and the ride will be free during those periods, with the costs picked up by WSDOT.

The agency had considered running a passenger ferry between Rainier and Longview, but the costs involved, including the building of docking facilities on both shores, made that project unfeasible. WSDOT is still working with local hospital, doctors, ambulance services and other health care entities to organize transportation across the river for medical emergencies.

As part of the closure notification system, WSDOT plans to install electronic message boards on both sides of the river, put in place two Highway Advisory Radio transmitters to broadcast updated information on two AM radio frequencies, and offer a toll-free phone number with updated messages.

The weekly closure schedule will also be listed on the agency's Web page, along with the project status and images from nearby traffic cameras.