PORT ANGELES — A replacement bridge for U.S. Highway 101 over the Elwha River is fully funded and should go out to bid in early 2019, state Rep. Mike Chapman told Clallam County commissioners Monday.
Chapman, D-Port Angeles, was joined by state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, and state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, in a joint legislative meeting with the county board in the commissioners’ work session.
Chapman, Tharinger and Van De Wege represent the 24th District, which covers Clallam, Jefferson and part of Grays Harbor County, including Hoquiam.
The state Department of Transportation plans to replace the 1926 U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River on a new alignment. The estimated cost is $29.53 million, DOT officials said.
The concrete arch bridge has been undermined by erosion since the removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams.
Dam removal, which occurred from 2011 to 2014, has lowered the river bed at the bridge by about 14 feet, DOT officials said.
“I think DOT has a process now and since it’s fully funded, we’re in good shape,” Chapman said.
“Probably this next year will be design and land acquisition, and then we’ll move into a bid process probably in 2019.”
The existing highway bridge is being monitored by DOT for signs of movement. Boulders have been added to reinforce the base of the piers and west abutment.
The bridge is safe to drive on but is subject to close if conditions change.
“A high flow scenario for us this winter could change the picture dramatically,” said Commissioner Bill Peach, who represents the county’s West End.
Chapman, who serves on the House Transportation committee, said letters of support from local governments and community organizations helped secure state funding for the Elwha Bridge project.
“It shows that when the community speaks with one voice, it really does make a difference,” Chapman said.
“It made it fairly easy to move that project forward.”
Van De Wege, who serves on the Senate Transportation Committee, helped keep the Elwha Bridge project funded on the Senate side, Chapman said.
Tharinger, chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, opened the hour-long discussion with an overview of the status of the capital budget.
A water policy bill that would create 14 priority basins in the central Puget Sound region was linked to the capital budget, he said.
“There’s the budget that came out of the House floor, then there’s a budget sitting in the Senate,” Tharinger said.
“In the budget that came out of the House floor, there’s $15 million for water resources.”
The House budget includes more than $2 million for a property transfer to build an off-channel reservoir for the Dungeness River.
As a consequence of climate change, Olympic Mountain snowpack is “probably less than half of what it used to be,” Tharinger said.
The state can no longer rely on snowpack to store water for adequate flows in the late summer and early fall, he added.
“So the idea is to make investments in the resource to make it more resilient in August, September and October,” Tharinger said.
Clallam County is working with a variety of partners to build the reservoir on 319 acres of land now owned by the state Department of Natural Resources.
DNR has asked the legislature to consider funding the $2 million land transfer to Clallam County.
Proponents say the project would have multiple benefits, including increased streamflows in the Dungeness River for irrigation and salmon runs. The project also would create a wildlife habitat area off River Road and recreational opportunities at a new county park.
“One of the strengths and one of the drawbacks of the project is that it has a really wide range of benefits, but it isn’t just one thing,” said Commissioner Mark Ozias, who represents the Sequim area.
“It’s not just a salmon project. It’s not just a stormwater project. It’s not just a climate change resiliency project. It has elements of all of those.”
Highway 101 safety
Meanwhile, Ozias said the county, the city of Sequim and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has identified as a priority safety improvements for U.S. Highway 101 between Blyn and east Sequim.
A new fish culvert on Johnson Creek will “lock in” the highway alignment for the foreseeable future, Ozias said.
“Louella Road is dangerous,” Commissioner Randy Johnson said.
Van De Wege said an ideal solution would be a connection between Palo Alto and Happy Valley roads with a controlled intersection at the highway.
“It’s obviously pretty expensive, but I think it would be the safest answer, certainly,” Van De Wege said.
“I know the [Sequim Bay] State Park has been open to realigning their entrance in a more controlled intersection. So we’ll keep working on it.”
Van De Wege works as a firefighter-paramedic with Sequim-based Clallam County Fire District No. 3.
Chapman and Tharinger are former Clallam County commissioners.
Ozias updated the delegation on local efforts to integrate the public health care system. The Salish Behavioral Health Organization, a consortium of Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties, is meeting its goals, he said.
“There’s a very strong interest in maintaining as much local control over these decisions as possible,” Ozias said.
“I feel like we’ve been doing a pretty good job utilizing that authority.”
Tharinger, who serves on the Health Care and Wellness Committee, said there is momentum for integration at the state level.
“I have not heard much interest in going backward,” Tharinger added.
“You guys are well respected in the work that you’re doing. So I think that that gives you some capital to be able to say, yeah we’re doing it.”
Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said all counties are struggling with unfunded mandates such as indigent defense and public records.
Jones suggested that indigent defense and all of Superior Court be the responsibility of the state, not individual counties.
“A lot of counties are way worse off than we are in terms of reserves and their ability to handle this extra cost,” Jones said.
“But eventually, we’re all going to go broke.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.