Clallam seeks funds for Elwha bridge

By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES - Clallam County must choose between raising money to build the Elwha Bridge or lowering the cost of spanning the river.

The second choice may be the only option, county Public Works Director Craig Jacobs said Tuesday.

A week earlier, Jacobs and Clallam County commissioners were stunned when bids to replace the one-lane span exceeded a their $10.9 million estimate by $5.5 million to $6.5 million - 50 to 60 percent.

Examining the bids led Jacobs to believe they were realistic for contractors to tackle bonding and building a major project far from the supplies of workers and materials of the I-5 corridor.

Furthermore, the project calls for a custom-designed bridge across a stream with strict environmental windows for salmon, bull trout and steelhead.

It also would span in a marbled murrelet flyway that has noise restrictions.

Not your everyday bridge
"This is not a cookie-cutter bridge," Jacobs said about the 700-foot span.

"It's not something that people build every day."

Whether anyone will build it at all depends on Clallam County's finding new funding in the pockets of its partners - the Federal Highway Administration, the state Department of Transportation, National Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The last agency, acting on behalf of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, last week released $1.5 million for the project.

That still leaves the county short at least $4 million - and it's already spent about $1.5 million to design the bridge, obtain permits and buy rights of way.

The one-lane span was considered to be two lanes wide when it was built in 1913, 75 feet above the river in one of the most picturesque canyons on the North Olympic Peninsula.

In recent years, it was limited not only to one lane but to what weight it could carry.

The state transportation department about four years ago refused even to risk the truck with which it inspected the span, Jacobs said.

"At some point in the future, it's going to be able to bear only the weight of the bridge itself," he said.

Earthquake-proof route
The effort to replace it started in 1997 with public hearings on its role in Clallam County's traffic web.

Officials decided a new bridge was necessary to give the Lower Elwha access to tribal housing and to add a route to the West End that could withstand an earthquake.

The state Highway 112 bridge might not survive, Jacobs said.

The county selected a design he called "the least costly yet environmentally friendly version" because it placed no piers in the river bed.

Changing the design by placing piers in the water might save some money, he said.

Any savings, however, probably would be lost to the costs of re-engineering the project and getting new environmental permits.

The project also would be a sitting target for inflation during the two to three years it would take to redesign, he added.

Jacobs hopes Transportation will increase its support by pulling funds from other counties' projects that are still years away.

"We have a project ready to go," he said.

"We have a lot of 'what-ifs' answered."

Once funds could 'float'
Tribal members and other motorists aren't the only people who need a new crossing of the Elwha.

The National Park Service must move heavy equipment into the area to build a new wastewater treatment plant before removing the Elwha River dams, Jacobs said.

Once, the bridge would have been built with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent local money, the amounts of which would "float" as the project progressed.

Now the funds are capped with months-old engineer's estimates made in the face of soaring fuel and materials costs.

"We're aggressively trying to talk to our partners," Jacobs said.

"We're going back to make sure they understand our need to make this happen. We're going to continue to look for other sources of funding."

Jacobs hopes to return to county commissioners on June 26 with a recommendation they accept the low bid of $16.4 million by Parsons Corp. of Sumner - providing they have the money.

"It's putting a lot of pressure on people to make this bridge happen," he said.

"Building a bridge has to be a partnership, or it just isn't going to get done."

Reporter Jim Casey can be reached at 360-417-3538 or at

Last modified: June 12. 2007 9:00PM


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