A car crosses the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River southwest of Port Angeles on Tuesday. Motorists can expect delays at the bridge starting today as inspectors examine the bridge footings. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

A car crosses the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River southwest of Port Angeles on Tuesday. Motorists can expect delays at the bridge starting today as inspectors examine the bridge footings. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Crews examining erosion at Elwha River bridge to cause series of Highway 101 closures

One-hour traffic delays are expected beginning today.

PORT ANGELES — Sediment washing down from the former Lake Aldwell has eroded the areas around the piers for the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles, and traffic will be subject to one-hour delays this week beginning today while the state decides what to do about it.

The bridge is safe, said Chris Keegan, regional operations engineer for the state Department of Transportation, who added that bridges are inspected on a regular basis.

“As long as the bridge is open to traffic, then it is safe for the public to use,” Keegan said Tuesday.

The riverbed has been washed out 14 feet down since the Elwha Dam downstream was removed in 2012, according to Keegan.

“The bottom of the riverbed has washed out into Puget Sound, and as a result, there has been erosion around the piers,” he said.

The Elwha Dam was removed along with the Glines Canyon Dam higher up the river as part of a $325 million National Park Service project to restore the Elwha River to its wild state.

Throughout the next seven days, drivers could encounter intermittent one-hour closures of Highway 101 at the Elwha River bridge west of Port Angeles at milepost 239 as crews drill bore samples along the bridge piers to look for the level of bedrock.

The times of the traffic closures are vague because they depend upon the progress of the work, Keegan said.

Each closure is expected to be for one hour.

Today’s is expected to be in the early afternoon, while Thursday’s will be in the early evening.

Three one-hour closures are expected Saturday. They will be between early morning and midafternoon.

Two one-hour closures are expected between noon and late afternoon next Tuesday.

“We ask people for their patience,” Keegan said. “If they have a specific appointment, they might want to consider detouring to state Highway 112 and 113.”

Transportation crews will lower equipment from the bridge deck to the riverbed and spend the week drilling bore samples along the bridge piers.

The borings will provide information on the type and depth of material under the bridge foundations, said Claudia Bingham Baker, Transportation spokeswoman.

Said Keegan: “This is the first step in determining what the next steps will be.”

“If bedrock is close to what were seeing, we’re not as concerned as if there is 20 to 30 feet of gravel underneath,” Keegan said.

Bedrock will provide a solid foundation for stabilizing the piers, he said, explaining that the plan is to place large rocks around the piers.

“We will know more later in the week,” he said.

“If they find something that makes them more concerned, we will look at our options,” he added.

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

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