In June, the City Council signed off on the $13.6 million project after numerous delays.
The 102-year-old bridge carries 40,000 vehicles per day over BNSF Railway Co.'s main line. It was refurbished once in its long life, in 1931.
In recent years, the city worked to extend the bridge's life while it moved forward on the project.
Last month, the city extended a weight restriction for the outer lanes to cover the entire bridge: No vehicles over 11 tons are permitted.
That was more of a precaution than a danger sign, city engineer Ryan Sass said.
“The bridge inspector himself didn't notice much difference from the 2013 inspection to 2014,” Sass said.
The most recent delays came from the discovery of looser than expected soil under the bridge and roadway, necessitating a more complex design for the new bridge, Sass said.
In addition, negotiating with BNSF is never easy, even when the railroad itself wants to get the bridge repaired.
“It's not that they're dragging their feet at all, it's just negotiating with them takes time,” Sass said.
The bridge is owned by BNSF, and at the completion of the project the ownership will be transferred to the city.
Financing the project also proved complicated, and this year the state Department of Transportation reduced the amount of federal grant money it would provide to the project by about $970,000 to $7.6 million.
The city filled the gap by redirecting funding from the city's separate funds for utilities, traffic mitigation and large capital projects.
The railroad contributed $824,000 to the total cost, although many city leaders had hoped for more.
But due to the way federal laws are written, once federal money got involved in a railroad-owned bridge, BNSF's participation was strictly voluntarily, Sass said.
The city will officially start accepting construction bids in August, but the bridge won't be closed and removed until Jan. 1, because the railroad prohibits any work done on the bridge during the months of October through December.
The holiday season sees the heaviest freight traffic, and even during the rest of the year, work on the bridge would have to stop when trains run by underneath — an average of 44 times per day.
Instead, the contractor will spend the fall building a detour route to be in place by Jan. 5, when the bridge can finally be closed.
The new bridge will be slightly elevated above where the current bridge deck lies, and the single 12-inch water main that runs below the deck will be replaced by two 8-inch mains.
This should provide the railroad with one more foot of clearance for its trains, a few inches higher than that of the railway tunnel that runs under downtown, Sass said.
The new bridge, with wider lanes and no weight restrictions, is now expected to be finished by fall 2015, but the delays the project has suffered has city leaders wondering about future big projects.
The economic downturn undercut many traditional sources of funding major capital projects, City Council President Jeff Moore said.
“Even when the economy returns there's no certainly those mechanisms will be restored,” Moore said.
“We're in a new normal, from federal funding to state funding,” he added.
It's unlikely the city will need to do a major overpass project soon, Moore said, but when other large projects come up, it will probably take more foresight and planning to bring them to fruition.
“It will probably involve building a case for funding in a competitive environment, (as opposed to) when the economy was strong and resources were more plentiful,” Moore said.
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; email@example.com.
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