US 101 - Elwha River Bridge - Bridge Replacement - common questions

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q. What is the total cost for the new bridge?

A. In total, the project estimated cost is about $29.5 million. This cost includes design, construction and sales tax.

Q. What is going to happen to the existing bridge? Can it be used for a different purpose?
Our analysis shows that the old bridge is nearing the end of its useful life, and needs to be demolished to remove any risks to the new bridge structure. Our bridge contract will include demolition and removal of the old bridge as well as removing all the riprap (large boulders) that we placed in the riverbed to protect its piers.

Q. What will the new bridge look like?

A. The new bridge will be a concrete girder bridge, with two piers in the river channel, and will look similar to a standard freeway overpass bridge.  The east end of the bridge will be at a higher elevation along US 101 to accommodate the more gentle curve on its east side. To support that new geometry, WSDOT will construct five retaining walls as part of the project.

Q. What is the life expectancy of the new bridge?

A. WSDOT’s standard is to build bridges for a 75-year lifespan. Between our robust designs, high construction standards and ongoing inspections and maintenance, many of our bridges provide many more years of service. The Elwha River Bridge, at 92 years old, is an example of that and has served the community well.

Q. How do we know the river is done moving, and will more movement affect the new bridge?

A. Before any preliminary designs were drawn, extensive environmental and hydraulic testing was done to evaluate how the river has been affected by the removal of two dams in the Elwha River. Our expert hydraulic engineers fully expect the river channel to continue to move, and the new bridge design takes that movement into account. The new two-lane concrete bridge will be anchored into bedrock and built to current seismic codes, and we are confident the new bridge will accommodate further changes in the river channel.

Q. The NEPA process seems drawn out. What can be done to shorten that process and get a bridge built before the spring of 2022?

A. This project is funded in part with federal dollars. As such, WSDOT is obligated to comply with requirements outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA process requires a thorough evaluation of a number of potential environmental impacts, both temporary impacts caused by construction activities and permanent impacts resulting from the new bridge alignment. The NEPA process is rigorous and includes mandatory reviews by many resource agencies as well as the general public.  WSDOT is evaluating impacts such as effects to endangered species like Chinook salmon and Bullhead trout, vegetation, noise, environmental justice, climate change, water quality, air quality, and cultural and natural resources.

The best way to expedite the NEPA process is to do it right the first time, and that is our goal. Any deviation from the NEPA process opens the door to challenges to the findings, which could end up making the process even longer.

We hope to complete the environmental process by spring of 2022. Once we are granted NEPA approval, which means the state and federal agencies agree that we have sufficiently reviewed, identified and mitigated for any environmental effects, and thus the project can proceed, we will apply for a Highway Easement Deed from Olympic National Park to acquire the right to build the bridge on federal land. This process is linear – we cannot acquire the land until we are granted NEPA. Finalizing NEPA will also allow us to finalize all design and contract plans, acquire all permits necessary for construction, and prepare the construction contract for advertisement to the contractor community. Our current timeline has construction occurring between summer 2019 and fall 2020. That timeline is subject to change, of course, if unforeseen issues arise.

Q. What are the tents off the side of the road and what are they looking for?

A. We are required under NEPA to evaluate a project’s temporary and permanent effects on the environment and neighboring communities. Historic and cultural resource reviews are required on all WSDOT projects that include ground-disturbing activities or effects to historical or culturally-sensitive areas. WSDOT is collaborating with Eastern Washington University and their archeological team to perform most of the historical and cultural resource reviews, which includes researching the history of the project area and performing on-site investigations. The tents you may have seen at the Elwha site were part of that on-site work. When EWU’s investigation is complete, WSDOT will enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with the state Department of Archaeological and Historical Preservation to document the project’s effects and the need for mitigation, if any, as part of our NEPA process.

Q. Has a value engineering study been done to consider alternative routes?

A. WSDOT has analyzed a number of alternatives, including reviewing ideas sent to our engineers by local residents. Those options proved to be either too expensive or would significantly lengthen the environmental process beyond our desired timeline to replace the bridge. We believe the newest bridge alignment proposal, Alternative 7, is the right approach and the community’s preference.