New bridge planned over South Fork Stilly

GRANITE FALLS — Plans are in the works to replace an 80-year-old bridge on the Mountain Loop Highway near the town’s namesake falls and fish ladder.

The county aims to construct a new bridge across the South Fork Stillaguamish River less than two miles from downtown. It would be 10 feet wider, measured curb to curb, and 66 feet longer than the existing 20-foot-wide, 304-foot-long span. The road would remain two lanes and a sidewalk is planned on the bridge.

Built in 1934, the bridge predates the start of construction on the Mountain Loop Highway by about two years. An estimated 1,288 trucks and 2,737 cars cross the bridge per weekday in the summer, according to a 2013 report from Snohomish County. 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 were to fail or be shut down for critical repairs, people could face up to a 94-mile detour through Darrington to access homes and businesses along the Loop near Granite Falls. In the winter months, a detour wouldn’t be available because much of the highway remains unplowed.

The county is seeking a design consultant to finalize plans for the new bridge, county spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said. Officials expect the design to be finished in early 2017.

The county council on Wednesday approved $16,000 to purchase two right-of-way parcels from the state Department of Fish &Wildlife. The budget for the entire bridge construction is estimated at $29 million.

Project leaders plan to seek federal grants, Hover said. A construction schedule can be decided once the project is funded.

A new bridge would be built immediately downstream from the existing bridge — officially Granite Falls Bridge No. 102 — so the route could remain open during construction.

It’s the only access over the Stilly on the Mountain Loop, a 55-mile scenic route through the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest that links Granite Falls with Darrington.

Widening the bridge has been on the county’s radar for more than a decade. Narrow lanes make it difficult for two large vehicles going opposite directions to use the bridge at the same time. The span provides access to camping, quarries and logging, meaning that trucks and RVs regularly use it.

In 2001, planners considered setting up an alternating traffic light to let one vehicle cross at a time, according to county documents. However, people in Granite Falls quickly shot down the idea, concerned about the impact on traffic.

Some improvements have been made to the bridge in the last decade, but it remains below the county’s standards for size and safety. The replacement bridge will be designed to meet those thresholds, according to the county.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com,

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