Work suspended on 2 Arlington-area bridges

Editor’s note: The original headline on this article misstated the bridges’ status. Both are open to traffic.

ARLINGTON — Everyone knows bad weather always delays road construction. It’s a little more inconvenient when the work is on a bridge. Especially a one-lane bridge that’s 100 years old and gets closed in the winter when floods threaten.

Near Arlington, not one but two single-lane bridges are in weather limbo until spring.

One is Snohomish County’s Jim Creek Bridge, on Jordan Road east of Arlington. The 100-year-old span was built to accommodate much narrower vehicles than today’s SUV-sized family cars.

The other bridge is the Pilchuck Creek Bridge on Highway 9 north of Arlington on the way to Centennial Trail’s northern trailhead. Almost as old as the Jim Creek Bridge (Pilchuck Creek was built in 1916), the bridge forms a chokepoint on the only alternative route to I-5 between Arlington and Skagit County.

About 1,300 vehicles use the Pilchuck Creek Bridge every day.

In both cases, weather caught up with the work crews. Asphalt plants shut down at the end of the year and won’t reopen until April 1, said Janice Fahning, the construction engineering manager for Snohomish County.

That caused an unexpected delay for completing the work on Jordan Road. The Pilchuck Creek Bridge, however, is still on its original schedule for completion next summer, Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Chesson said.

Road crews are about half done pouring the concrete bridge deck, Chesson said. That work stopped because of the recent cold snap, but it is expected to be finished after the new year.

Then it’s a matter of waiting for warmer weather to pave the approach roads with asphalt, Chesson said.

The Pilchuck Creek Bridge is unique in that it is the only one-lane bridge on a state highway in Snohomish County. The 17-foot-wide span, supported by double arches, also had an occasional problem with flood debris backing up behind and underneath it.

It didn’t happen often, but it required maintenance crews to keep an eye on the bridge during heavy storms and, on at least one occasion, laying down rocks to reinforce the pilings exposed by the erosion of the banks under the bridge, Chesson said.

That will no longer be an issue with the new bridge. The old bridge and the sharp turns on the highway are being replaced with a two-lane span with shoulders, and Highway 9 is being realigned to improve sight distance and straighten the curves.

In addition, the pilings in the new bridge go 100 feet down, said project engineer Dave Crisman, and will be less affected by flooding and seismic events. The new 580-foot span will also allow the river to meander in its bed and better handle floods.

The original bridge and access road will remain in place to serve a few houses that are accessed by the original roadway, Chesson said.

The Jim Creek Bridge is more typical of rural county roads.

Just 14 feet wide, it’s one of 13 one-lane bridges on Snohomish County roadways, but it’s heavily traveled. Jordan Road is a scenic route through rolling hills, passing farms and nurseries en route to Granite Falls.

As a result, Jim Creek Bridge sees on average 1,246 vehicle trips per day, more than 10 times the volume of any other one-lane bridge in the county, according to the county’s 2012 Bridge Report.

Still other bridges in the county pose potential bottlenecks. One is the bridge on Mountain Loop Highway immediately north of Granite Falls, which is 20 feet wide and striped for two lanes, but which functions as a one-lane bridge for trucks and larger vehicles.

That bridge sees nearly 5,000 vehicle trips per day, many of which are heavy trucks servicing the quarries outside town.

The county has placed that bridge on its list of candidates for replacement once funding can be secured, said Darrell Ash, a bridge engineer with the county.

In the meantime, the Jim Creek Bridge replacement project is still under its $2.2 million budget, although the final cost hasn’t been determined, Fahning said.

And the county is just waiting for the spring before it can finish the work. It’s worth the wait, Fahning said.

“We want to have a long-lasting project that will be there for 100 years,” Fahning said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165;

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