State Department of Transportation officials told some 60 government officials and local leaders Tuesday that WSDOT is still exploring options for the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 after discovering it was built on gravel and not bedrock. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

State Department of Transportation officials told some 60 government officials and local leaders Tuesday that WSDOT is still exploring options for the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 after discovering it was built on gravel and not bedrock. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

State officials tell of possibility Elwha River bridge will be closed

PORT ANGELES — If the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles closes, traffic would be routed to state Highway 112, state Department of Transportation officials told some 60 government officials and local leaders during a meeting in Port Angeles on Tuesday.

“We’re lucky there’s a viable route, but it’s not a good route,” said John Wynands, assistant region administrator for project development with Transportation, at the meeting at the Vern Burton Community Center.

As Transportation looks toward retrofitting or replacing the 90-year-old bridge, the bridge could close for a number of reasons.

The now-wild Elwha River has been eating away at the riverbed, causing concern for Transportation engineers. Officials discovered the bridge piers were built on gravel, several feet above bedrock and recently discovered several old cracks in the bridge.

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.

The bridge is safe for travel, officials said, but they are monitoring it. They have installed tilt meters and crack meters, and are monitoring the flow of the river and using imaging software to look for any changes in the bridge.

If the tilt meters detect 1 millimeter of movement per meter, which would be about a half-inch tilt from the base of the bridge to the deck, officials said they would close the bridge.

The bridge might also close as crews eventually work to retrofit or replace the bridge.

“This is like a one-two punch for the West End,” said Lissy Andros, executive director for the Forks Chamber of Commerce.

Andros said if traffic is detoured to state Highway 112, the economies in both Forks and Port Angeles would suffer because fewer people would be willing to make the trip, herself included.

“If you haven’t been on 112, please go on it and make sure there is a log truck behind you,” she told Transportation officials.

If Transportation were to build a new bridge, it would likely take about two years after awarding the contract, said Wynands.

Whether a new bridge would be in the same exact location as the current bridge, run parallel to the current bridge or have a different alignment isn’t yet known, he said, adding that Transportation is still looking into whether retrofitting would be a viable option.

He said retrofitting could cost about $8 million while replacing the bridge could cost upward of $25 million, adding those are rough numbers.

“I’m pushing our bridge engineers pretty hard to be creative and say how can you save this 90-year-old bridge,” Wynands said.

“I want to make sure we’ve really vetted out the rehab option before we launch down the road with a much longer project that potentially takes the bridge out of service during construction.”

Rod Fleck, Forks city attorney, urged Transportation to present its plans for the crossing to the public and invited officials to a Forks City Council meeting.

“When can we sign you up to be at the city council meeting … where people in the community can weigh in on something that’s in front of them?” he asked.

Officials said Transportation will be taking public comment as the project moves forward.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsula dailynews.com.

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