John Wynands, regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation, tells a group in Forks on Tuesday the agency has started designing a new Elwha River bridge for U.S. Highway 101 that would be on a new alignment. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Department of Transportation designing new Elwha River bridge for Highway 101

FORKS — The state Department of Transportation has started designing a new Elwha River bridge for U.S. Highway 101 along a new alignment after hundreds urged the state to pursue that option.

“Our goal is to have that structure remain open in place, stable, safe, until we have a new bridge built,” John Wynands, regional administrator for the state DOT, told more than 30 people during a presentation in Forks on Tuesday.

The effort to replace the 90-year-old bridge began in October after officials discovered the two bridge piers sat atop gravel and not bedrock.

The now-wild river was eating away at the riverbed under the bridge until DOT crews surrounded the piers with rip rap.

The public overwhelmingly told DOT it should replace the bridge and put it on a new alignment. The cities of Forks and Port Angeles, Clallam County and the Port of Port Angeles also urged DOT to build on a new alignment.

DOT is working now on bridge design, environmental issues, land acquisition, permitting and programming, Wynands said.

Engineers are looking at building a 36-foot-wide bridge with 12-foot lanes for vehicles and 6-foot pedestrian lanes, he said.

He said the hope is DOT will acquire funding during this legislative session. DOT has submitted its budget and requested about $29.5 million, he said.

Once the bridge is funded, the state will advertise the contract, award a bid and begin working.

During the first year after it is funded, the contractor would start preliminary road and bridge work and likely start in-water work this summer, he said.

They can only work in the water during certain time periods due to fish windows, Wynands said.

During the second year of construction, the contractor will focus on the bridge structure, roadway work and finalize the in-water work, he said.

He said the whole process will likely take about three years.

If the bridge becomes unsafe within the first year of the process, DOT might switch to its “plan B,” Wynands said.

That calls for demolishing the existing bridge and replacing it on the existing alignment.

That option would have the least red tape and would be the quickest, though traffic would need to be detoured onto state Highways 112 and 113.

If the bridge were to be damaged more than a year after funding and permitting the new bridge, plans would likely move forward with building the bridge on a new alignment, he said.

When asked if the federal government would provide funding for construction, Wynands said the state would likely ask for reimbursement.

“We need to front the costs and get it done, then leave it to the attorneys,” he said. “If we went [to the federal government] today … we wouldn’t move forward.”

During the summer, there will be a number of road projects between Forks and Port Angeles that drivers should be aware of, Wynands said.

DOT is chip sealing 40 miles of Highway 112 this summer, he said, as well as removing a fish barrier from Nordstrom Creek near Joyce.

The National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration will start its Lake Crescent Highway 101 rehab project in April.

He said if the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 is closed, the state would stop work on Highway 112 during the detour.

DOT is continuing to monitor the bridge and has changed the criteria needed before it would close.

Crews installed tilt meters last year and officials said the bridge would close if the bridge moved 1 millimeter per meter. That has since been upped to 4 millimeters per meter.

DOT installed crack meters also to monitor cracks that had been discovered. The cracks were not new and have not changed, he said.

The state is also monitoring the flow of the river. Before, officials said they were concerned if the river flowed at 8,000 cubic feet per second. Now, after more analysis, he said it appears the bridge can handle up to 21,000 cfs before there should be concern.

River flow reached as high as 10,900 cfs Feb. 16, according to the United States Geological Survey.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

 

A logging truck passes over the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles in January. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)