Bridge repair, maintenance work in county set for 2016

The new Broadway Bridge in Everett re-opened to traffic Dec. 8. The former span was 102 years old and had weight restrictions the last eight months of its use.

The new bridge was the highlight of a relatively quiet year of bridge work in Snohomish County that largely focused on maintenance and repairs.

Shovels are getting prepped for a busier 2016.

In Brier, an innocuous yet well-trafficked bridge that has had weight restrictions for several years will be replaced.

Near Granite Falls, a one-lane bridge on 64th Street NE that connects horse pasture with the pavement of Highway 92 will be replaced, while a more major project on the Mountain Loop Highway awaits federal help.

And in Everett, two pedestrian bridges will get attention. Repair work on the Howarth Park pedestrian bridge will go to bid in early 2016, with a planned re-opening in time for summer beach fun. Work also is scheduled to start on a much-anticipated Grand Avenue Park pedestrian bridge that will link north Everett to the waterfront.

In a world where funding for transportation projects often is elusive, bridge work offers a relatively bright spot.

“Washington’s done a reasonably good job of trying to catch up on the bottom tier of structurally deficient bridges. I think statewide we’ve made some good gains over the last decade or so,” said Ryan Sass, engineer for the city of Everett.

Sometimes it can take a bit longer to get funding than is desired, said Darrell Ash, Snohomish County’s bridge engineer. But the county has been largely successful in getting the federal Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation grants that typically cover 80 percent of such project costs.

The federal bridge funds won’t be enough to check off the county’s biggest bridge wish-list item though.

The 81-year-old Granite Falls Bridge 102 spans the Stillaguamish River and is part of a 52-mile Mountain Loop Scenic Byway between Granite Falls and Darrington.

“It’s an essential part of our local economy,” Ash said.

Plans call for building a new bridge just downstream that is double the current bridge’s width.

The county applied for a $16 million federal TIGER grant, which would have covered the bulk of the $22 million total project costs. But it was passed over. The county will get the project prepped for the big-ticket work and apply again in 2016.

“In this current funding climate, projects that are construction ready have a much higher success rate,” said Catherine Higgins, a Public Works spokeswoman.

Snohomish County has 201 bridges. Maintenance continues to make up the bulk of work orders.

Between 1994 and 2014, 65 bridges were replaced or rebuilt. At the end of 2014, there were 13 county-owned bridges still listed as “structurally deficient,” according to Snohomish County Public Works’ annual Bridge Report. That’s 6.5 percent of all bridges the county oversees.

Structurally deficient means that a bridge requires repair or replacement of a certain component. It doesn’t imply that the bridge is in danger of collapse or unsafe to the travelling public.

Among them, Pilchuck River Bridge 581 is in line for a $4.5 million replacement in 2016. The 55-year-old, one-lane bridge connects a Lochsloy agricultural area off Highway 92. The bridge is prone to flash-flooding and has weight restrictions.

At the other end of the county, Swamp Creek Bridge 504 is set for a $2 million replacement. The bridge is on Locust Way, east of Brier, and sees more than 9,700 vehicles per day. Pilings for the new bridge will be taken out of the creek, and the new bridge will be wide enough to accommodate bike paths and sidewalks.

Statewide, more than 1 in 10 bridges are at least 75 years old. It would cost an estimated $2.3 billion to replace just the 310 state-owned bridges in that mix.

For now, five state bridges are under contract for replacement. Another 29 are in need of a major overhaul, including four in Snohomish County. One of those projects, the 88-year-old Snohomish River Bridge on Highway 9, is inching forward with design work expected in 2019.

The state also eyes improvements aimed at helping bridges better withstand earthquakes and flooding or scouring.

Which brings up the other way bridge projects often get done: in an emergency. As 2015 draws to a close, work continues on shoring up a Skykomish-area bridge on U.S. 2 that was damaged by erosion in the Nov. 17 storm.

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