Elwha Bridge plans told: State officals provide timeline for new structure

PORT ANGELES — Design plans have been outlined for a two-lane concrete Elwha River bridge anchored deep into bedrock that will replace the existing river-ravaged span that’s being monitored for stability after 92 years.

At the regular City Council meeting Tuesday night, Steve Roark, assistant regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation, presented drawings and a timeline for the estimated $29.3 million project.

He and other Transportation officials also presented the plans Wednesday to the Forks Business and Professional Association and the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

Those plans call for building a new bridge over the Elwha River on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles and just south of where Lake Aldwell once pooled as a creation of the Elwha Dam, which has not stood since 2012.

Plans include a new intersection with a transit stop connecting Highway 101 with Olympic Hot Springs Road east of the existing Hot Springs road, a new parking lot at the new bridge and a river-viewing area for sightseers — but no bathroom stop, Elwha Project Manager Chris Bruning said in an interview.

It will be connected to a realigned roadway that will be softer and more sweeping than the sharply angled highway that now connects 101 with the existing span, and will be more stable than the existing structure, which is not dug into bedrock, officials at the meeting said.

The project will go out to bid in spring 2019 and construction should begin in summer 2019, Roark said.

Bruning said the new span would be slightly longer than the existing 380-foot structure and have two 12-foot lanes and two shoulders, each 6-feet-to-8-feet wide, for pedestrians and cyclists.

Roark told council members that Transportation officials understood from residents that the road that ties into the bridge needs to be realigned and the curve made more motorist-friendly.

“We heard that loud and clear,” he said.

The bridge will be open for traffic by fall 2020, “ideally faster,” Roark said.

“We’re right on time for construction in summer 2019. The real kicker is the environmental process.”

Roark said agency staff members are reviewing the project for compliance with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) restrictions that apply to historical resources and vegetation but mainly to endangered fish species.

Transportation spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said staff members are expected to complete the NEPA application by December and that federal officials should complete their review of the application by mid-2019.

Bingham Baker said a bridge route over the Elwha should be available throughout the project except for possibly a few weekends toward the end of construction, when traffic would be rerouted to state Highway 112.

Some residents are still pushing for Transportation to develop alternative routes to avoid building a new bridge, Councilwoman Cherie Kidd said, noting that former Mayor Glenn Wiggins urged exactly that earlier during the public comment section of Tuesday’s meeting.

Kidd asked Roark if a “value engineering study” had been conducted to pinpoint an alternative route.

“The costs may be lower, maintenance may be lower,” Kidd said.

Roark said selecting an alternative to what he presented Tuesday would lengthen the environmental review and disputed Kidd’s assertion that a lower cost project was out there.

“We looked at a non-bridge alignment, and the cost is prohibitive,” Roark said.

Bruning said a frequently described alternative that employed nearby state Highway 112 and an old railroad grade would cost between $40 million and $45 million.

He said Transportation officials reviewed seven to nine options that proved too expensive or would have taken too long to review for environmental compliance.

The existing concrete arch bridge has been undermined by erosion since the removal of the Elwha Dam and the Glines Canyon Dam two years later, in 2014.

Roark said the existing arch bridge, built in 1926, had lost 14 feet of sediment around its support columns and has been buttressed with almost 5,000 tons of heavy rip-rap to keep in place what sediment is left.

Bridge tilt, and cracks and water flow are being monitored at the span, which Bruning said was built 92 years ago with supports “in the neighborhood” of 14 to 25 feet below the stream bed — but does not hit bedrock.

“A lot of that, in my opinion, was construction methods then,” Bruning said.

The new bridge will be supported by 8-foot-to-10-foot-diameter drilled shafts “in the ballpark of 50 to 100 feet deep socketed into bedrock,” he said.

The design aspects that have been completed include the geotechnical borings, roadway alignment, a preliminary bridge plan and 70 percent of the final bridge design.

Contract plans are 80 percent completed, traffic control and staging is 30 percent done and community engagement is “ongoing,” according to Roark’s PowerPoint presentation, which urged residents to stay informed about the project by going to www.elwhariverbridge.com.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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