A logging truck passes over the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 on Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

A logging truck passes over the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 on Tuesday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson County panel weighs in on Elwha River bridge; Option 7 is unanimous choice

PORT TOWNSEND — The three Jefferson County commissioners have joined the Clallam County commissioners and Forks City Council in urging that the Elwha River bridge west of Port Angeles on U.S. Highway 101 be replaced with a new alignment.

Commissioners unanimously approved the county staff’s recommendation to support Option 7 and send a letter to that effect to the state Department of Transportation.

“We felt it was important that our county weigh in on the options since it’s important to our citizens,” said Zoe Ann Lamp, a transportation planner for Jefferson County.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important Highway 101 is to Jefferson County, especially where it goes through Clallam County,” she said.

Highway 101 is the main road connecting east and west Jefferson County and requires travel through Clallam County.

“We can’t reach people in West Jefferson County without going through Clallam County,” Lamp said.

The 90-year-old concrete bridge’s piers are being undercut by the now free-flowing Elwha River.

Option 7 would place a new bridge north of the existing span near the intersection with Olympic Hot Springs Road with new approaches.

It would allow drivers to use the existing bridge during construction, eliminating the need for lengthy detours onto state Highways 112 and 113.

Transportation officials already have removed from consideration three no-build options from an initial seven proposals that ranged from not building a new bridge and arranging for a detour along state Highways 112 and 113 to a brand new bridge with new alignment across the river.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict co-signed the county commissioners’ letter favoring Option 7.

In addition to the county and Forks City Council, the Port of Port Angeles commissioners also have supported Option 7.

“We really appreciated number seven as the safest option,” Lamp said Tuesday.

“A detour wasn’t an option and this is the most cost-efficient. These are very similar to the reasons that Clallam County supported it, too.”

The new bridge would have space for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians to all use the bridge safely, according to the report from Transportation.

The new bridge would be expected to cost $18 to $25 million, take one to two years to complete and last 75 years.

The Jefferson County recommendation aligns with those from West Jefferson County and the tribes, according to Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler.

Transportation received about 300 comments on design alternatives. Option 7 was the “overwhelming preference,” Transportation spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker has said.

The Elwha River has scoured the bridge piers and riverbed since the removal of the Elwha Dam in 2012 and the Glines Canyon Dam in 2014.

The riverbed under the bridge has dropped about 14 feet since Lake Aldwell was drained in 2012, Transportation officials said.

Bingham Baker has said there is no firm timeline for a decision on work on the bridge. Given the required environmental permits, funding challenges and other hurdles, bridge replacement could take several years to complete, she has said.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at [email protected].

Reporter Rob Ollikainen contributed to this story.

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