Friday, December 16, 2022

One fish, two fish, three fish passages

 By Adrienne Hatmaker

The 2022 construction season in western Washington was really busy. And sorry to say, 2023 will be even busier.

Because our region’s rainy weather typically leads to a short construction season of just six or so months – if we’re lucky – we look to adjust where we can.

For example, we took three separate fish passage projects from across King County and grouped them together under one contract, the Interstate 90 West Fish Passage bundle. This saves time and money in the long run, as one contractor and WSDOT project office can work together at multiple sites to complete the project. Construction is scheduled to start in 2023 and continue through 2026.

I-90 Sunset Creek

In spring 2023, our contractor Atkinson Construction will start work on four new bridges on I-90 and local roads in Bellevue to remove a long culvert and restore natural stream conditions for Sunset Creek. Before major construction begins, crews will do geotechnical drilling which will require some overnight lane closures starting the week of Dec. 18.

Interior view of the Sunset Creek culvert under I-90.

Situated just east of the I-405 interchange, this upcoming fish passage for Sunset Creek presents several challenges, including the depth that crews will have to drill down. It’s nearly 100 feet under I-90 where the existing culvert crosses. That’s the main reason this project will take several years.

During the span of this project, we will shift lanes on I-90 and close lanes on local roads so crews can dig down, remove the existing culverts, create a new streambed, and install two new bridges on I-90, one on Southeast Eastgate Way and one on Southeast 36th Street in Bellevue. This project is part of our efforts to remove fish passage barriers and restore access to fish habitat as part of a federal court ruling protecting treaty rights for local tribes.

By building four new fish passages under I-90, Southeast Eastgate Way and Southeast 36th Street, we can return Sunset Creek to its natural stream conditions and open important spawning habitat to help several species recover.

The other fish passage projects included in this bundle are on SR 161 and SR 202 and 203. Because there are multiple locations, our contractor will spread the work over several construction seasons between now and 2026. We will continue to report important project updates on our social media channels and in our weekly traffic news email as the project progresses.

What I-90 travelers and users of local roads can expect

  • Long-term lane reductions and lane shifts for both directions of I-90.
  • A single lane of alternating traffic on Southeast 36th Street for up to 1½ years.
  • A six-month full closure of Southeast Eastgate Way.
Exterior view of the Sunset Creek culvert under I-90 near Bellevue.

What travelers on SR 161 near Federal Way and Milton can expect

  • A reduction of lanes to one in each direction of SR 161 around-the-clock for up to six months. Traffic will be shifted to one side of the highway to build the first half and then shifted again to finish the other half of the new structure.
  • Up to four weekends of full highway closures.
  • Intermittent nightly lane closures.
A map showing the locations of three culverts that will be replaced under SR 161 to Hylebos Creek near Federal Way, Wash.

What East King County travelers on SR 202/203 can expect

  • SR 202 culverts at Skunk Creek: The highway reduced to one lane of alternating traffic for up to eight months or building a short-term bypass route by using Southeast Fish Hatchery Road. We're still determining which will work best for the community.
  • SR 203 culverts: One weekend closure at Northeast Carnation Farm Road; a long duration closure with one lane of alternating traffic at 324th Way Northeast.
This map shows the locations on SR 202 and 203 near Fall City and Carnation where fish passage work will occur.

New fish passages

Replacing these culverts and rebuilding the streams will provide new habitat for the Coho, resident trout, steelhead, and sea-run cutthroat that use these waterways and nearby wetlands. Each culvert has a potential habitat gain ranging from 1,066 to more than 1,300 meters. These improvements and habitat gains will help restore fish runs and increase the population of these species.

When complete, this project will benefit commercial seafood operations, recreational fishers, and provide more food for our declining orca population.

Public outreach

During the design phase for all three fish passage locations, we held a series of briefings to a wide range of stakeholders, including essential services, area school districts, city councils, and members of the public who attended online meetings. As plans and schedules get firmed up, the construction project team will continue outreach efforts and schedule a variety of in-person and virtual briefings.