Aged Elwha bridge closed permanently in wake of Minnesota tragedy
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Clallam County Road Department supervisor Rob Hooker, left, and road foreman Jeff Doninger place barricades at the east end of the Elwha River Road bridge. It was the only bridge in Washington state permanently closed in the wake of Wednesday's tragedy in Minnesota. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES - Clallam County closed its decrepit Elwha River Road bridge to traffic on Thursday afternoon - the local wave of "a ripple effect" from Wednesday's catastrophe in Minneapolis.

The bridge would have been closed in about two weeks in any case, said County Engineer Ross Tyler, for demolition and eventual replacement.

The Federal Highway Administration recommended the closure on Thursday.

It acted in the wake of Interstate 35W's plunge into the Mississippi River in Minnesota during rush hour a day earlier.

Tyler said some drivers who use the Elwha River Road bridge may have been inconvenienced in their Wednesday homebound trips but that the federal action made sense.

"They say everything happens in threes," he said, "and I'd just as soon not be No. 2 or No. 3 on somebody's list."

Bids exceeded estimate
Clallam County had planned for several years to replace the 94-year-old, one-lane span that Tyler said soon wouldn't support its own weight.

The project had hit a snag in June when a Pierce County contractor's low bid of nearly $16.4 million overshot the county's estimated cost by $5.5 million.

Rather than scrap the replacement - and lose the $1.5 million it already had invested on the project - the county sought more money for the bridge.

The Lower Elwha Klallam tribe successfully lobbied the Bureau of Indian Affairs to contribute $1.5 million for the work and has asked for more.

The state Department of Transportation and the National Park Service added another $2.9 million.

Two decks will span river
County commissioners on July 18 approved the contract with Parsons Corp. of Sumner.

They hope to raise the remaining money during the next federal fiscal cycle that begins in October.

When finished early in 2009, the bridge will consist of two decks.

A two-lane span will carry vehicles across the river.

Slung below it, a pedestrian bridge will carry hikers and cyclists on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Tyler said the federal action came as no surprise.

"I was thinking about it this morning," he said, "and then I got a call from WSDOT.

"Then we got the same recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration.

"The ripple effect of this has reached coast to coast."

Demolition timetable
Preliminary work to replace the Elwha River Road bridge will start later this month and follow this schedule, according to Clallam County Engineer Ross Tyler:

  • Aug. 27: Parsons Corp. of Sumner will erect silt fences to keep water muddied by demolition out of the Elwha channel.

  • Early September to Sept. 17: Workers will remove bridge decking and rails.

  • Sept. 17 to 24: Bridge's wooden trusses will be demolished.

    Replacement of the span across the scenic Elwha canyon will take about 18 months, Tyler said.

    Peninsula Daily News

    Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at

    Last modified: August 02. 2007 9:00PM
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