Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Working through the January blues by reaching a fish passage job milestone in Grays Harbor County

By Angela Cochran

As January, the Monday of months, comes to a close, we are making big progress on a fish barrier removal project in Grays Harbor County. On Jan. 2, our contractor Ceccanti, Inc., set girders on the first of nine bridges we are building to correct barriers to fish at four locations. All are located under US 12 and State Route 8. A couple of weeks later, we set the girders at the second location near Elma.

There’s a lot of work required before we reach that point. Placing the girders is literally a big job. After that’s complete, we start the process towards completing bridge construction.

Earlier this month, crews set girders on the first two bridges located west of Elma.

Coming soon: Numerous westbound rolling slowdowns on US 12 near Montesano

Next up, we will set girders on the first of three bridges near Montesano at Camp Creek. This work requires daytime rolling slowdowns with traffic holds of 15 minutes in the westbound lane of US 12.

Vehicles work in tandem to slowly bring traffic to a stop. We know it’s an inconvenience but it’s a strategy to get the job done while trying to maintain traffic access. Unfortunately, we sometimes see impatient people drive around the trucks. This is incredibly dangerous. Not only for the workers down the highway, but for anyone inside the vehicle that goes around the stopped vehicles.

During the rolling slowdowns, crews use a crane to remove girders from a truck in the westbound lane. A total of seven girders are scheduled to be set the week of Feb. 5. Work will begin at 7 a.m. and will be completed in one day. We aren’t sure of the exact date yet but will notify everyone in advance on our app and statewide travel map.

Building something that keeps people, fish moving

We are building bridges for each direction of the divided highways. The work is taking place at three locations on US 12 and one on SR 8. The fifth location on SR 8 east of McCleary doesn’t have a bridge. Instead, we’ll remove barriers to fish there by building a large concrete culvert.  It is like a bridge, but it has four sides. The bottom is buried under the streambed so fish can easily pass through it. The pieces are built elsewhere and brought in on a semi-truck. Crews will install half of it this year. The other half will be built next year when the work zone is moved to the opposite side of the highway. This approach helps balance the needs of construction with keeping people moving.

Example of a large concrete culvert that allows fish to swim through more easily than traditional culverts which were built just to move water under highways.

How it all began

Work started on the project in June 2023 on US 12 when crews set up lighting in the work zones. After all three locations were ready, crews began building a lane that crosses over the median to keep one lane in each direction open around the work zones. This work took place throughout the summer. In the fall, crews built a crossover lane at each of the two locations on SR 8 near McCleary.

We built a lane crossing over the median at each work zone to keep one lane
in each direction open for travel throughout the project.

How the bridges are built

After completing the crossover lane, work began at each location to build bridge foundations. Crews drilled shafts into the ground to help distribute the load and provide stability for the bridge. Crews then installed the piers on the shafts to get ready for girder placement. Girders make up the backbone of the bridge and support the bridge deck or driving surface.

Crews drill large holes into the ground and fill with rebar and concrete to create
the shafts or large underground support columns.

Once the girders are placed for each bridge, crews will rebuild the lanes approaching the bridges. Most of this work will take place in the spring when the asphalt is available. We also need consistently warmer weather. Asphalt requires temperatures above 50 degrees and fairly dry conditions to create a long-lasting driving surface.

Working in the stream

In summer 2024 and 2025, crews will perform any work that has to take place in the water. There is a limited time frame they are allowed to do this that is determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. We call it a “fish window.” This is when working in the water will be the least disruptive to aquatic life. The fish window is not the same at every fish passage job but is usually in mid to late summer. In this case, the fish window is from July 16 to Sept. 30. Because we are building at least two bridges at each location, two summers are needed to complete the work in the water.

An example of de-fishing. Crews remove aquatic life from a stream at
Wildcat Creek for a project several years ago.

Before working in the water, a barrier is placed around the area within the stream where the work will take place. Then crews remove aquatic life within the barrier and document the species and quantity. We call this process “de-fishing”. The marine life is then moved to a safe spot outside of the barrier. Once the area has been de-fished, crews are able to work in the water to build the embankment and restore the streambed that was previously routed under the road in a large pipe or culvert.

Traffic shift ahead

After work in the water is complete, crews will reconfigure the crossover lanes to allow travelers to shift to the opposite side of the road. Then crews do the same work that happened over the past year on the other side. They will build new bridges at four locations and install the other half of the structure at the fifth location. Once work in the water on the other side of the highway is complete, crews will start work to move the travel lanes back to their original location. Other work includes landscaping and planting around the streams. We use plants that hold soil in place. Plants contribute to a healthy environment and provide food to the aquatic life in the stream. The project is scheduled to be complete in late 2025.

Big jobs take time

We have learned a lot about correcting barriers to fish. While we’ve been doing this work since the 1990s, we sped up the process after the 2013 federal injunction. We are now working on multiple locations at the same time when it makes sense. A lot of work goes into planning the work at these locations. This process can take years to complete because we are looking at the best way to balance the needs of construction with the need of travelers. We work closely with Tribes, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and local jurisdictions. You may have seen fish projects on other highways that were completed in a shorter time period. Those projects generally require full closures of the road for weeks at a time. This can be done where there are detour routes available that can accommodate all users of the road. We also look at traffic volumes, stream characteristics, flood zones, environmental impacts such as endangered species, and overall project cost, including right-of-way needs.

In this case, we have multiple work zones under two divided highways with substantial traffic volumes. We determined the best course of action to limit the effects on travelers was to build crossover lanes. This extends the overall project timeline but keeps people moving while construction is happening simultaneously.

Project benefits

We know this is at the very least inconvenient. We live and work in these areas, too. If we could build these projects faster and without affecting traffic, we definitely would. But this work has to be done. Not only do we have to comply with the injunction requirements, we are seeing the ecosystem recover in real time. Fish are returning to areas of streams they couldn’t get to before the barriers were corrected. These projects aren’t just for the fish. They benefit people as well, providing a healthier environment, food and even jobs.

Construction opens habitat for fish.

We need your help to keep our crews safe while we complete these projects as quickly as possible. Please plan ahead and slow down when traveling in the work zones. You can get the latest information about construction projects in Grays Harbor County by signing up for email updates.

All this work is being repeated in so many other areas right now. Check out more on our efforts to comply with the federal court injunction (PDF 11.5MB).

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Weekend-long closures coming to southbound SR 529, starting Jan. 19

UPDATE 1:52 p.m. Monday, Jan. 29
Work on the SR 529 bridge project has been postponed. We will get word out when new dates have been set.

By Tom Pearce

Maintenance and preservation are a big part of what we do at our agency. Among other tasks, we inspect more than 3,900 bridges – and when I say bridges, that includes overpasses – in the state at least once every two years. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of poking around, particularly in some tight spaces on some of those structures.

Last year during a routine inspection of the 97-year-old southbound State Route 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge just south of Marysville, our crews found about a dozen worn gusset plates, which connect steel beams. The bridge remains safe to use, but we reduced the speed limit to 25 mph last summer to lessen vibrations and wear.

This is one of the plates that will be replaced on the southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge.

It’s taken time to hire a contractor and order replacement parts, but we’re ready to start that work now. In order to replace these worn plates, we’ll need a few weekend-long southbound SR 529 closures, the first of which begins at 11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2. Southbound SR 529 will reopen at 5 a.m. Monday, Feb. 5. We’ll repeat the closures the weekends of Feb. 10-11 and 24-25, depending on weather.

During the weekend-long closures, people traveling from Marysville to Everett will need to use southbound Interstate 5. People still can get to the west side of SR 529 from northbound SR 529.

Why a full southbound closure?

We need to close the southbound SR 529 lanes because we need the bridge to be still as we remove the old plates and install the new ones. As you can imagine, any traffic on the bridge would create vibrations, which isn’t ideal when you remove a piece that connects the beams.

Once this work is complete, we should be able to return southbound SR 529 to its regular 55 mph speed limit.

Regular bridge inspections

While we check our bridges at least every two years, sometimes our inspectors see things that require more frequent inspections. Our bridge crews have checked the Steamboat Slough Bridge about every six months since 2022. This past summer, they determined we need to replace the plates, which were part of the original structure.

The southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge, built in 1927

A little history

The southbound SR 529 Steamboat Slough Bridge is part of the original highway across the Snohomish River delta between Everett and Marysville. Opened in 1927 as part of US 99, the highway had one lane in each direction. The structure is a swing bridge, meaning it can rotate to open a channel for boats to continue upriver. For comparison, the SR 529 Snohomish River bridges have a lift span that raises a section allowing boats to pass.

In 1954, a separate road for US 99 northbound lanes opened, so the original road became southbound only. When US 99 was decommissioned in 1971, the road became part of the state system and was renamed SR 529.

More work on SR 529

The southbound Steamboat Slough work is part of a larger preservation project that also involves the northbound Steamboat Slough Bridge and the SR 529 twin bridges over the Snohomish River.

A four-month closure of the northbound SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge is the biggie for this project. Before we close the bridge this spring, our contractor crews will build a crossover between the northbound and southbound lanes north of the bridge. When the closure begins, the southbound SR 529 Snohomish River Bridge will be reduced to one lane in each direction. After crossing the bridge, northbound traffic will use the crossover to return to the northbound lanes. Our contractor is planning to operate a shuttle to move cyclists and pedestrians between Everett and Marysville.

In addition to the southbound Steamboat Slough Bridge closures, the northbound bridge also will have a couple of multi-day closures. During these, northbound traffic will detour via I-5.

With so much work to complete, this project will continue into 2025. We expect some challenges with traffic, but if you plan ahead and use an alternative, such as I-5, that will help those who need to use SR 529. Thanks for your patience!