Comment period opens for Elwha River bridge project

Environmental assessment presented online

PORT ANGELES — Comment is being accepted now on an environmental assessment of a project to replace the Elwha River Bridge on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles.

The state Department of Transportation’s (DOT) $35.5 million project would build a new Elwha River Bridge that would be 40 feet wide and accommodate two 12-foot lanes with two 8-foot shoulders, replacing the current bridge, which is 28 feet wide.

Additionally, a new alignment with U.S. Highway 101 and Olympic Hot Springs Road would create a more gentle curve with a higher design speed of 40 mph, instead of the present 25 mph, at the east end of the bridge.

Construction is expected to begin in spring 2022 with use starting in fall 2023.

Comment will be accepted until noon Aug. 18 through a form in an online open house — used in place of an in-person presentation — at engage.wsdot.wa.gov/elwha-river-bridge. DOT will respond to written or recorded public comments as part of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Comments also can be submitted by phone at 360-570-6699 or by postal mail to WSDOT, Olympic Region Environmental Office; c/o Jeff Sawyer, WSDOT Environmental Services Manager; PO Box 47440; Olympia, WA 98504-7440.

To receive a paper copy of the assessment, call 360-570-6699.

The bridge is the major link between the Port Angeles and Forks, originally built in 1926.

The wider bridge is expected to create a more comfortable crossing for travelers and provide adequate shoulder room for bicyclists and pedestrians, as well as correct a problem.

Dam removal ending in 2014 changed the course and flow of the Elwha River. That led to significant erosion around the bridge foundations, which were found to be on gravel, not in bedrock. As a result, DOT engineers estimated the riverbed around the bridge’s piers has lowered 14 feet.

DOT has installed almost 5,000 tons of riprap around both piers to help prevent further erosion.

Additional bridge monitoring using tilt meters, crack meters, water flow meters, surveys and visual observations have occurred. So far, the bridge has been deemed structurally sound.

After reviewing seven different design alternatives and discussing them with residents, businesses and local jurisdictions, DOT is moving ahead with what was Alternative 7.

The environmental assessment compares that alternative only with a no-action alternative to gauge environmental effects.

The plan also would provide Transit bus stops on both the west and east ends of the bridge and restore the parking access that was there before with a gravel parking lot.

DOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Interior, Olympic National Park, Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers and area jurisdictions.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at lleach@peninsuladailynews.com.

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