Granite Falls seeks grant to replace 81-year-old bridge

GRANITE FALLS — The aging bridge near the city’s namesake waterfall is too narrow for heavy trucks to pass safely in opposite directions.

Hopes of replacing the 81-year-old span over the South Fork Stillaguamish River are riding now on a federal grant request. Snohomish County Public Works staff applied recently for $16 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If it comes through, the grant could speed up work to replace the structure known as Granite Falls Bridge No. 102. The process is highly competitive, though, and will pit the bridge against big-city and rural projects throughout the country.

“If we were to get this grant, we’d probably look at construction in 2017,” said Doug McCormick, a program planning manager for the county’s Public Works Department. “Of course, that’s in a perfect world, if everything falls into place.”

The county hopes to hear back this fall or winter. Work would likely take place over two construction seasons.

The existing bridge was dedicated July 17, 1934. It measures 340 feet long and crosses the Stilly less than two miles from downtown Granite Falls.

Trucks use the bridge to carry crushed rock from quarries along the Mountain Loop Highway to construction sites throughout the region, including the new Boeing Co. 777X wing plant in Everett. Last year, an average of 1,200 heavy trucks traveled the bridge every day. It’s also a school bus route.

It provides access to popular campgrounds and hiking trails along with hundreds of homes in small communities such as Verlot, Silverton and Robe. If the bridge goes out, those communities must rely on the Mountain Loop Highway through Darrington, which is closed during the winter.

“People living in the Robe Valley area would be cut off from civilization in the event of a bridge closure,” said Fred Cruger, a Granite Falls planning commissioner and member of the local historical society. “So from the perspective of the City of Granite Falls, acting to avert such a disaster is simply good planning.”

The county’s public works staff submitted the $16 million request June 5 through the federal transportation department’s TIGER program, which focuses on projects that promote economic recovery. The county contends a new bridge would complement the Granite Falls Alternate Route, which opened in 2010 to divert heavy truck traffic from downtown streets.

The federal grant would cover most of the project’s estimated $22 million cost. The county has spent $700,000 already on design work, and has committed to spending $800,000 more.

“We’ll be using the existing bridge while we’re building the new bridge,” McCormick said. “We’re looking at an alignment just downstream for the new bridge.”

The existing bridge measures just 20 feet from curb to curb. Steel truss construction eliminates the possibility of widening it, the county says. It is rated structurally deficient, but that doesn’t mean it’s about to collapse.

“This bridge isn’t in imminent danger of falling down,” said Bobann Fogard, the county’s transportation and environmental services director. “It’s outdated for the type of use of it is getting.”

The new bridge, with concrete girders, would be longer than the existing one. It would have 15-foot-wide lanes plus sidewalks in each direction.

Current plans call for demolishing the old bridge, but there’s been talk locally about keeping it as a pedestrian walkway over the river gorge, next to the fish ladder.

“When built, it was the ‘key’ that opened the Mountain Loop for tourism,” Cruger wrote in an email. “To demolish it unnecessarily would serve little purpose, but to preserve it would serve to enhance tourism for the city and the area.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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