Commuting? Got a schedule to keep? Hood Canal Bridge test closings to continue

SHINE — The pain continues for drivers on the Hood Canal Bridge — especially those who commute or must meet ferry or airline schedules.

More ballast tests will be conducted on the bridge this week, crimping travel while workers make sure the new east side and retrofitted west side of the floating bridge work together.

Prepare accordingly for closures of 40 minutes each at 3 p.m. Tuesday and at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

The actual delay each day might be closer to 90 minutes because of the backup of traffic.

Did you think that work on the bridge was completed in June, after the North Olympic Peninsula suffered through a five-week closure while the bridge’s new eastern half was floated into place?

The bridge’s June 3 reopening was followed by a huge celebratory party on June 6 that included a ribbon-cutting appearance by Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond. She called the bridge “an engineering marvel.”

A $600,000 bonus was paid to Kiewit General Construction Co. because the bridge opened a week earlier than scheduled. But the bridge work has yet to end.

Kiewit and the state Department of Transportation are still at it.

Work on the 1.5-mile span has caused 154 traffic delays between June 3 and Dec. 31, a total that will increase in coming weeks and reach a crescendo in February.

Drivers will experience multiple 40-minute shutdowns between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. Monday through Thursday — and perhaps some Fridays — from about Feb. 8 through Feb. 28 while workers test components against a 900-page checklist.

The tests are timed to coincide with slack tides. The Hood Canal Bridge is the world’s longest floating bridge on salt water.

20-straight openings

Then they will put the bridge through 20 straight problem-free openings and closing.

Only then will they call the project a done deal.

“It’s like a testing individual components of a car and how everything works individually, and then driving it for 20 days to make sure everything works properly as a complete system,” project engineer Jeff Cook said.

“We don’t want to tell them not to use the bridge, but they should definitely plan ahead and know what’s going on.”

To do that, you can find scheduled closures listed online at www.hoodcanalbridge.com.

Call 5-1-1 or 800-419-9085 to find out if the bridge is open on the day your are driving, but neither number will provide advance notice of closures.

Other closures

Once the $520 million project is completed, drivers will still deal with normal delays from bridge closures because of marine traffic and regular maintenance.

Kiewit also will earn an additional $20 million for its work on retrofitting the span’s western half, bringing its total take for the project to $420 million.

A company representative at Kiewit’s Poulsbo office referred questions about the project to the Omaha office, which did not return a call for comment.

There were a total of 398 delays related to bridge construction and to allow passage of military and private vessels from June through December 2009 — compared with 259 in 2008, according to DOT spokesman Joe Irwin.

Of the 2009 total, 154 were construction- and maintenance-related weekday delays compared to just 30 maintenance-related delays in 2008.

Resort at Port Ludlow Sales Manager Dana Barrett said the closures have not affected room counts “in any way at this point,” at the 37-room, seven-house-and-condo lodging establishment.

“It maybe has affected my staff who might work evenings and work on the other side” in Kitsap County, she added.

“We just work around it.”

For now, though, workers are doing agonizingly precise ballast work that has taken longer than expected, Cook said.

The west half has 65 ballast cells, each first filled with sea water to calibrate the correct weight, then filled with an equivalent amount of gravel once the proper weight is determined.

The two massive bridge halves — each about 500 feet long and more than 30 million pounds — meet in the middle, with ballast adjusting their comparative elevations at the seam, Cook said.

“As they come together, you can’t have an elevation of more than an inch,” Cook said.

“It’s under an inch tolerance for almost every tolerance we have on that bridge.”

The bridge is secured by 3-inch cable stretched 380 feet down to concrete anchors on the canal floor.

A small amount of electrical current — not enough to give someone an electric shock — runs through the cable to prevent rust, Cook added.

The rebuilt bridge sits about 4 feet lower on both sides than the old version.

The east side sits 50.1 feet above the mean high water mark; the west side is 31.4 feet above the mean high water mark.

Bridge closings for private boats from June through December increased by 41 percent compared with 2008, from 97 the last half of 2008 to 137 the last half of 2009.

Irwin did professes that DOT does not know if the lower span has caused an increase in bridge openings for private boats.

“Since we don’t keep track of how tall the boats are, it seems to be difficult if not impossible to tell if [the lower span] is having an effect.”

Bridge closings for military vessels — such as ballistic missile submarines inbound or outbound from the Bangor submarine base — are tracked.

They have decreased, from 130 in 2008 to 107 in 2009.

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Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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