With the real and present danger of an imminent tourist invasion, it’s time once again for the Olympic Peninsula driving guide.
Escaping Pugetopolis, you head west to endure a two- or three-hour wait to get on a ferry, because ferry crews are down 70 percent, due to reluctance to get vaccinated or pass a drug test, and the fact it is a tough, sea-faring job that entails a lot of responsibility. But let’s assume you make it across Puget Sound.
You cross the Hood Canal bridge without it unexpectedly closing. You dodge the Sequim elk and make it through Port Angeles without hitting a tweaker spinning in circles in a crosswalk.
Congratulations — but abandon hope as you head west. Your adventure begins as you cross the historic Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River.
Built in 1926, the Elwha bridge is a survivor. The life span of a bridge is between 50 and 75 years and the Elwha bridge is approaching its centennial celebration. But no celebration is planned.
The Elwha bridge is part of a laundry list of collateral damage from the $325 million Elwha Dam Removal Project that includes a fishing closure, a resort, a rafting company, two National Park Service campgrounds, one private campground, two boat launches and the Olympic Hot Springs Road. It also includes two beautiful lakes, but never mind — it was the largest salmon habitat restoration in the country that was predicted to bring back 400,000 salmon to the river, someday.
Meanwhile, last November, the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha was closed completely as a precaution due to concerns about the foundation, which had never reached bedrock. This happened before.
Tom Aldwell failed to reach bedrock when constructing his dam on the Elwha in 1910. In 1912, as the reservoir filled, the dam failed and flooded the river, taking out a bridge just downstream, all of which sounds vaguely familiar.
A 2016 Peninsula Daily News article described how removing the Glines Canyon Dam endangered the Highway 101 bridge on the Elwha by lowering the riverbed 14 feet, which caused erosion around the foundation of the bridge.
That was the year a crack was found in one of the bridge piers. A tilt monitor was installed to keep an eye on it. A Department of Transportation spokesperson issued a disquieting assurance that as long as the bridge is open to traffic, it’s safe. I have always assumed that as long as the bridge is safe, it is open to traffic. Silly me.
A 2017 PDN article said the Elwha bridge replacement was fully funded and was expected to go out for bid in 2019. That didn’t happen.
In March 2018, a Forks Forum article described DOT plans to rebuild the bridge in 2020, before something bad happened.
The failure of the Elwha bridge would have left the paved elk trail we know as Highway 112 as the only route to the West End of the Peninsula. Ironically, that was one plan for a detour around the imaginary new Elwha bridge construction until last winter’s mudslides destroyed Highway 112
A Feb. 10, 2022, PDN article headlined, “No lasting state fix coming for Highway 112” revealed the roadway presents “a consistent problem” because it crosses a slide zone that is falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The article further states “there will be no repair of 112 until there is an increase in the gas tax.” Which is not happening.
Instead, we will purchase new imaginary electric ferries that nobody wants to work on.
Next Week: Abandon hope, all who drive west.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday. He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via [email protected]