Thursday, March 16, 2023

Keeping the SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge operational is vital for everyone

Update: 12:49 p.m. Monday, April 10

We’ve had a change in plans about this summer's work on the Hood Canal Bridge. We’re no longer going to need around-the-clock total weekend closures of the bridge. Instead, we’ll use weeknight and weekend nighttime bridge closures in May, June and September. Please note this blog was written at a time when this was our best guess as to how long the work will take. But again, there will be no weekend-long closures of the bridge.

By Cara Mitchell

Anyone who works or lives on the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas knows just how vital the State Route 104 Hood Canal Bridge is to communities in Jefferson, Clallam, Mason, and Kitsap counties. No one likes it when there are unplanned closures of the bridge for high winds, collisions, or emergency repairs.

Yet these unplanned events do cause the bridge to close, forcing nearby communities to be extra resilient. We saw it happen twice in February. The salty, marine environment the bridge sits in forces the structure to have constant maintenance and construction. The bridge is regularly under pressure from wind, waves, and fast-moving tides. Many key elements of the of the bridge are custom made. This requires lots of time to fabricate and install replacement parts. There is no other bridge like it.

Hood Canal Bridge draw spans are opened during high winds to relieve pressure on the bridge.

A couple years ago, we began preparing for some larger repairs to the center lock system on the bridge that is critical to keeping it operational for years to come. The center lock system keeps the two halves of the bridge closed so vehicles, bikes and pedestrians can get across Hood Canal. If that system fails, we won’t be able to keep the two halves of the bridge together so people can get across the water.

Here is one of two pyramids and receivers that are part of the center lock system that helps keep both halves of the bridge in place. The pyramids and receivers need significant work
this summer to keep the bridge working properly.

Due to the complexity of the work, the repair requires four weekend closures of the bridge.  The video below has another look at the work planned for this summer and why keeping it in a state of good repair is vital for everyone.

Work was initially scheduled for 2021 but like a lot of other projects, delays occurred due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We tried again in 2022, and again the work was pushed to 2023 because of supply chain issues.

So, here we are in 2023.

Hood Canal Bridge crews inspect the bridge bumpers and part of the pyramid from a boat. This is part of the center lock system that is the focus of this summer’s repair.

Getting the word out. …again

In January, we began spreading the word to Olympic Peninsula communities for this and other construction projects that are lining up this year. We met with the Olympic Peninsula Tourism Commission, presented at county commission meetings, met with local city councils, met with local reporters, and have received numerous letters from concerned business owners, residents and people who are planning summer vacations.

Collisions on the SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge can result in hours-long delays
for travelers between Kitsap and Jefferson counties.

Our conversations with our local partners have been meaningful. This community feedback is helping us refine the work schedule with the contractor. We have not locked in work dates yet, but we will soon. We are evaluating the contractor’s schedule looking for opportunities for opening the bridge to travelers occasionally during the weekend closures. There are a lot of variables that come into play with doing that. Here is what we know:

  • The bridge is a critical connection for more than 18,000 travelers who use it daily and is a lifeline for the people and businesses of the Olympic Peninsula.
  • The closures are being planned sometime from July to September. Key factors playing into this are the needs of travelers, emergency responders, our contractor, construction material availability, and tracking festivals that bring needed tourism to the peninsula.
  • The alternate route is a long one as it uses SR 3 and US 101 to get to the Olympic Peninsula. Travelers will see additional delays on this route from other projects that were preplanned and cannot be delayed.
  • Alternate ferry service is not planned. While our ferries division is incrementally adding service to its regular runs, it still faces crewing and vessel shortages.
  • The weather will be the ultimate deciding factor for if a weekend closure is going to proceed or not. This work requires optimal weather, including calm tides and winds. During these repairs, workers are suspended from the edge of the bridge with the roadway open to repair the pyramids. This means it is not possible to perform this work with waves crashing against the bridge.

What we don’t want to see is travelers lining up on US 101, SR 104 or SR 3 waiting for the bridge to open. This will affect local communities and property owners being able to get out of their driveways.

The SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge closed to vehicles but open for marine traffic during a boat opening.
Marine openings are required by federal law.

There is no good time to perform this repair. No matter what weekends we choose, someone is going to be inconvenienced. There is no weekend without a big summer event. Our work is often planned out months in advance and often has to be shifted due to weather concerns or delivery delays. The bottom line is, the repairs on this bridge have to happen. One thing we all agree on is keeping it operational is vital for everyone.

We are coordinating with our partners to lessen affects where we can. But we need everyone to work together during this construction season. Delaying trips, going early and staying late helps everyone else who can’t do so. Allow for extra time and stay informed. 

Please visit our online open house for more information about the 2023 construction season and to sign up for updates.


Unknown said...

So what are the dates of closures so I can cancel my plans of going to the Olympic Peninsula? You didn't bother to provide them!!

Frank G said...

WSDOT only asked about event dates planned for May-June, but then scheduled the work for July-August. That's terrible "planning", seemingly designed to ignore the legit needs of the communities on the Olympic Peninsula.

Rob W said...

In line with Frank G, my question regards the choice of dates for these repairs. I doubt ANYONE on the Peninsula debates the need for the Bridge and the necessity of its upkeep and upgrades. That's not the issue. The issue is the timing of these tasks. No one at WSDOT has explained, WHY NOT weekends during late winter and early spring? Why does WSDOT require these tasks performed during the height of summer season when the bridge is MOST needed?

Peninsula Resident said...

With forewarning we can have a little tolerance and endure a little longer drive around a couple times this summer. You cannot build a bridge, or anything for that matter, and then not give it the maintenance it requires. Giving notice best they can, then managing the complications that weather poses, it's bound to be imperfect. Ultimately, however, I am glad that WSDOT and their crews are performing the required maintenance and keeping the bridge safe for everyone, including those of us who use it all the time.

WSDOT said...

Rob W, as addressed in the blog, the work requires optimal weather, including calm tides and calm winds. During these repairs, workers are suspended from the edge of the bridge with the bridge deck open to make the repairs. Historically, late winter and early spring are times when we don’t have consistent weekends of calm weather.

WSDOT said...

Frank G, we meet with stakeholders about this project last October, and we were provided dates for events happening all throughout the summer that would be impacted by Hood Canal Bridge closures. Unfortunately, any weekend we choose to do this work will impact someone or some event. We selected the July to September timeframe because we need calm weather to do this work, and that is when the weather is most predictable. There is also lead time for specialized materials and fabricated parts on the bridge that factor into the timing.

Frank G said...

Your claim about events "all throughout the summer" is not accurate.

On March 6, 2023 Steve Roark wrote in an email:

"Last fall, we reached out to the community and received feedback that the May/June timeframe had many high-demand events, and we were asked to reconsider the closure dates. We worked with our contractor and identified the current late-July start date, which puts the work in a better weather window and addressed many of the community concerns, albeit not all concerns."

The fact is that WSDOT was provided with event dates that covered the May through October period, not just those in "May/June". Several "high-demand" events were identified in July, August, and September.

WSDOT needs acknowledge that you did not adequately involve the stakeholders -- the affected communities -- in the decision-making process.

Unknown said...

The Port Townsend Leader reported this in February:

"The Washington State Department of Transportation has announced critical closures of the Hood Canal Bridge this summer for repair work.

The span will be completely closed from 11 p.m. Fridays to 4 a.m. Mondays for four consecutive weekends starting Friday, July 28.

The bridge, which has roughly 18,000 vehicle crossings a day, will also be shut down the weekends of Aug. 4, Aug. 11, and Aug. 18."

Is that not still the plan? Anyone?

WSDOT said...

WSDOT has not finalized the exact dates yet with the contractor.

jessicax said...

PLEASE let us know the closure dates asap, so we can make the adjustments we need for our work, customers, patients, guests, etc.. The delay is hurting us even further.

Jessica Randall

Karen C. said...

As stated in the blog, the safety of the workers is important as they will be suspended from the bridge. Summer is the safest time to do this work. Bottom line, I think there will always be people who are going to complain about something. Plan ahead...allow WSDOT to keep this bridge safe and operational or we won't have a bridge to drive over at all. Of course this will affect businesses and travel and be inconvenient, but it has to happen. Cut these guys some slack already!
Karen C.

Annette Gurdjian said...

I have an idea, aimed primarily for those who need to cross the bridge for work. Homeowners in Port Townsend could open up their guest rooms for the weekend for those from, say Poulsbo, who work in Port Townsend, and vice versa.

WSDOT comment policy

Post a Comment