PORT ANGELES — The state Department of Transportation has released an artist’s rendering of the proposed $32.5 million Elwha River bridge on U.S. Highway 101 and is preparing to release an environmental assessment.
Replacing the current bridge has been a priority for the state since 2016, when it was discovered that the Elwha River, after it had been released from two dams by 2014, had eaten away at the riverbed under the piers.
Transportation hopes to release the environmental assessment (EA) for public comment this summer, advertise for bids in the winter and have construction begin in summer 2020 and end in fall 2021.
“We are still working on several serious and complex environmental processes that have to take place,” said Tina Werner, a Transportation spokesperson.
The National Environmental Policy Act review will need to be completed before the state can begin working on right of way procurement with Olympic National Park, which owns the land.
She said Transportation is continuing to work with the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Interior, Olympic National Park, state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, state Department of Ecology, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers and area jurisdictions.
She said that before the project can move forward, all of the agencies involved need to sign onto a memorandum of agreement.
“We can’t move forward on right of way until concurrence,” Werner said. “It can be lengthy, but we want to make sure we’re doing things right. We don’t want to cut any corners.”
She said the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation will be involved because the current bridge is more than 90 years old and because of the cultural significance of that area.
“It’s on a culturally sensitive piece of property. It has significance to the tribe and is owned by Olympic National Park,” she said. “We want to be including all of those parties moving forward.”
She said if any cultural resources are identified, they will be included in the EA.
The three-span concrete bridge will be built to the north of the existing bridge. The old bridge will continue to serve highway traffic during construction.
The new two-lane bridge will have a more gentle approach on the east side of the river and a wider road surface with 12-foot lanes and eight-foot shoulders on both sides.
Olympic Hot Springs Road will get a new intersection east of the bridge with better sight lines, illumination and dedicated turn lanes from the highway.
The new span will be 502-feet long and 40-feet wide. It will have room for Clallam Transit bus stops and a parking area for river access.
Werner said that while the new bridge is being constructed, traffic will continue to flow over the existing bridge. It’s when the contractor connects the new bridge to the highway that things could get difficult.
“That will mean a couple painful weekends where that part is closed and traffic detours around 101,” Werner said. “We’re not sure if there is a way to maintain a single lane of traffic.”
She said more specific details about delays will be released during construction.
In the meantime, the state will continue to monitor the bridge with tilt meters, crack meters and visual checks.
“We’re appreciative of the public’s patience. A lot of people have been thoughtful and asked question,” Werner said. “We appreciate feedback throughout this process because it has helped shaped the alternative selected and what kind of crossing will best fit the needs of this community.”
For more information, see tinyurl.com/PDN-elwhariverbridgereplace.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].