State officials to discuss Elwha River bridge plnas in Forks on Wednesday

FORKS — Two public presentations about the state Department of Transportation’s plans for the Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 west of Port Angeles are slated for Wednesday in Forks.

Transportation officials will discuss plans during the Forks Chamber of Commerce meeting at noon at Blakeslee’s Bar & Grill, 1222 S. Forks Ave., and again at 5:30 p.m. during a special Forks City Council meeting at the Forks City Hall council chambers, 500 E. Division St.

The two meetings are about three weeks after Transportation officials told some 60 government officials and local leaders that the department hasn’t decided what to do with the bridge, but that there’s a possibility it could close for an extended amount of time.

A detour would take traffic up to state Highways 112 and 113 to get to Forks from Port Angeles, Transportation officials said.

Transportation is looking toward retrofitting or replacing the 90-year-old bridge because 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.

“We will be talking about how we got to where we are … and we’ll talk about the various alternatives we’re considering,” said Claudia Bingham Baker, Transportation spokeswoman.

Transportation launched Monday http://tinyurl.com/PDN-elhwariver bridge, a Transportation-run website where people can make comments on the project and keep up-to-date with it, she said.

Though no additional public meetings are yet planned, there will likely be more public outreach as Transportation gets closer to a decision, she said.

Rod Fleck, Forks city attorney, is looking forward to getting more information about Transportation’s plans so that the community can provide meaningful input.

“Their options could have some pretty significant impacts,” he said. “We’re hoping for more information.”

During the meeting earlier this month, Transportation officials didn’t have specific plans for the bridge, but were considering retrofitting it, building a new bridge at the same location, or building a new bridge parallel to the existing bridge.

“They wanted to have public input, but they couldn’t tell us the options they were considering,” Fleck said.

“This is a chance to provide that information.”

Fleck hopes that whatever option is chosen will still allow traffic to cross the Elwha River via Highway 101.

He is hopeful the department will build a new bridge parallel to the existing bridge.

“I think that would be the most preferred alternative,” he said. “But I don’t know how realistic that is.”

If the bridge closes, Lissy Andros, executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, is confident it will not only decrease the amount of tourism Forks sees, but would affect most people’s daily lives.

She hopes that West End residents will have time Wednesday to go to either of the two presentations to have their questions answered and to provide feedback for the state.

“We just want to give the opportunity to the West End to hear what might be happening in the future,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions.”

Like Fleck, she also hopes Transportation builds a new bridge parallel to the existing bridge.

“I think the next couple of years at least are to be a challenge for us on the West End,” she said.

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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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