Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Replacing the Elwha River Bridge

By Mark Krulish

After serving the Olympic Peninsula for almost 100 years, the beloved Elwha River Bridge has reached the end of its useful life.

A new bridge is a necessity. Over the past several years, the Elwha River has changed its course and flow. This had led to erosion around the bridge’s foundation. In 2016, an investigation into the foundation showed it sat on gravel instead of bedrock. This did not match what the original plans from 1926 showed. We installed large boulders to prevent more erosion.

Building the new bridge

Work to replace the bridge began in 2016. We held six community meetings between 2016 and 2018.  Planning, designing and an environmental review then took place. Construction finally began on a new bridge over the Elwha River in April 2023.

For the first few months, our crews spent time preparing and clearing the site and building the piers. Over the past few weeks, you have probably noticed these new piers sticking out of the water. And on Saturday, Nov. 11, our crews finally began placing the girders for the new bridge.

Crews work between the girders on the new bridge over the Elwha River

It’s an exciting time for this project. With the girders in place, you can begin to imagine what the bridge will look like once it’s complete.

The next steps

Now that girders are in place, we can move to the next part of the project. Crews will build out the bridge deck, build the abutment walls that attach on each side of the bridge where it meets the land and then tie in the bridge to the existing highway.

The tie-ins will require a 9-day closure of US 101 at the Elwha River Bridge. This is likely to happen in late spring of 2024. While the bridge is closed, travelers will detour using State Routes 112 and 113.

We expect the new Elwha River Bridge to open to traffic sometime this coming summer.

An aerial view of the girders sitting on the piers that will form the new Elwha River Bridge 

Monitoring the old bridge

While the new bridge is being built, the old bridge is still in operation. That means we will continue to monitor it during the late fall, winter and early spring when rainfall is the heaviest.

Heavy rain can cause the river flow to pick up its pace, triggering high flood waters. A fast river can lead to the erosion of the bridge’s foundation. When those flood waters reach a certain level, we close the bridge to traffic as a safety precaution.  Once flood waters recede, structural engineers will inspect the bridge for any sign of scour or erosion at the support structure. The last time we had to close the bridge was in November 2021.

Girders were placed over the course of six mornings over the Elwha River west of Port Angeles

Stay informed

We will continue to share project information at the US 101 Elwha River Bridge project page, and on our social media channels. Real time travel information is available on our statewide travel map and on our app.