PORT ANGELES — Clallam County officials are calling on the state to build a new bridge over the Elwha River with a new approach to keep U.S. Highway 101 traffic flowing during construction.
Commissioner Mark Ozias and Sheriff Bill Benedict have signed a letter recommending that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) select “option 7” in its design alternatives for the span.
“The only acceptable solution is one that keeps the present bridge operational and builds the replacement bridge either next to it or at a location nearby,” the letter states.
“A location slightly to the south is preferable as it will mitigate the existing steep approach and 90-degree bend in the current bridge.”
The letter was drafted by the sheriff’s office and approved Tuesday by Commissioners Ozias and Bill Peach.
Outgoing commissioner and soon-to-be state Rep. Mike Chapman abstained, saying he had been appointed to the House Transportation Committee.
“I have to keep an open mind,” Chapman said.
Peach on Monday said he was prepared to send his own letter in support of option 7 after speaking with West End constituents.
“Highway 101 is the most important roadway in Clallam County,” the letter states.
“The economic livelihood of our county is dependent upon this lifeline.”
Re-routing traffic onto state Highway 112 during an extended bridge closure would be “unacceptable” because of the “exceptionally poor condition” of the highway between mileposts 35 and 37, according to the letter.
The Joyce-Piedmont-to-East Beach Road detour is “also unacceptable,” the letter states, because that bumpy route is too narrow to accommodate commercial traffic.
The Elwha River has continued to eat away at the riverbed below the old bridge since the removal of the Elwha Dam below it in 2012 and the Glines Canyon Dam above it in 2014.
Sediment from the former Lake Aldwell and Lake Mills reservoirs and high water have scoured the riverbed around the piers, which were built on gravel instead of bedrock.
Old cracks were discovered in the bridge, which is safe for travel but is being monitored with tilt meters, Transportation officials have said.
“The existing bridge is over 90 years old — well past its useful lifetime,” the letter concludes.
“From a public safety, economic well-being and political standpoint we strongly urge the replacement of the Elwha River bridge while keeping the existing bridge operational until completion.”
Transportation officials estimate that option 7, the “new bridge on new alignment alternative,” would cost between $18 million and $25 million and take one to two years to complete.
After construction, traffic would be shifted onto the new bridge and the old span would be removed.
The other options are:
• 1. No build — Abandon the bridge and construct turnarounds at both ends of it. Use state highways 112 and 113 as a detour: $400,000 to $600,000; one year to build turnarounds.
• 2. Replace with state Highways 112 and 113 — Abandon the existing bridge and improve the state highways to 101 standards: $40 million to $50 million for immediate upgrades, up to $95 million to reach national standards; up to 10 years.
• 3. Alternate highway — Build a new highway between Highway 101 and Highway 112 west of the Elwha River on or near Eden Valley Road: $35 million to $45 million; two to three years.
• 4. Retrofit — Fix the existing bridge and stabilize its foundation. Existing 101 traffic would use the bridge with occasional single-lane closures and detours onto 112 and 113: $10 million to $15 million; one to two years.
• 5. Existing alignment — Remove the existing bridge and replace it at the same location. Traffic would use detours during construction: $15 million to $20 million; two to three years.
• 6. Parallel alignment — Build a new bridge adjacent to the old bridge. Existing bridge would remain open during construction: $15 million to $20 million; one to two years.
Transportation officials unveiled the seven design alternatives in a special Forks City Council meeting Nov. 30.
Those who testified at the meeting implored the state to make haste and build a new bridge without detours, options 6 and 7.
The council heard no testimony in support any of the five options that didn’t include building a new bridge or would require detours during construction.
To comment on the options, go to http://tinyurl.com/PDN-elwhariverbridge. There is no deadline to comment.
Transportation spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said the agency would likely announce which option or set of options the department is leaning toward within the “next week or so.”
The agency had received about 200 comments as of Wednesday, she said.
Many “have expressed concerns about using state Route 112, in particular, as a detour because of its propensity to close during the winter months,” Bingham Baker said. “Certainly, the majority have expressed a preference for option 7.”
Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Cameron said a section of state Highway 112 near Highway 113 is so unstable that crews have stopped paving it.
“The supply trucks and things like that, they have to take 101,” Cameron told commissioners Monday.
Traffic and emergency response are among the reasons to keep U.S. Highway 101 open, Benedict said.
The sheriff added that the alternate routes are “completely inadequate for the community.”
“DOT works on their own time. I fear we’re going to get lost in the shuffle on this,” Benedict said.
Bingham Baker said Transportation is “certainly taking the public’s comments into account.”
“We still would need to decide the best option given the other constraints that we work under, which are not small,” Bingham Baker said, referring to environmental considerations, funding and timelines.
In a Tuesday interview, Chapman said the Elwha River bridge project would be “front and center” in his work on the House Transportation Committee.
“So, I’m not opposed to you guys signing this letter, but I think it would be best [to abstain],” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].