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).


neighbor/retired WSDOT engineer said...

My comments only pertain to the 5th location, east of McCleary at SR 8 MP 9.1.

The highway lanes were shifted here approximately November 7-8. To date, nearly 4 months later, no construction work has commenced. What was the rush in disrupting traffic here? For the record the "no left turn" signs are routinely ignored, especially by the welding shop employees/customers.

The "fish window" is described as July 16 to September 30. At MP 9 the Mox Chehalis Creek fish spawning run, for the last 25 years, has been around November 15.

The described "de-fishing process" should be easy here since there aren't any fish! My onsite observation, during the height of the Mox Chehalis Creek spawning run, disclosed no fish on either side of the existing SR 8 culvert. I challenge anyone to provide photos showing any.

What this blog article doesn't say is that the SR 8 MP 9.1 culvert replacement near Mox Chehalis Creek is totally pointless. There are only 100 feet of habitat upstream of the highway because the stream falls 4 feet out of a county/private culvert which prevents any fish passage beyond. South of the highway the tiny 4-foot-wide (at most) creek flows 650 feet through a clogged, overgrown private channel and small private culvert before emptying into Mox Chehalis Creek. There is little chance of those restrictions ever being improved. So any improvement to this "fish passage barrier" will be negated by the upstream culvert and the downstream channel restrictions. Plus, according to a WSDOT rep, the new structure will be 18 feet wide, for a current 4-foot-wide creek!

Basic biology taught that fish return to their point of birth. How will providing a wider culvert entice them to go an additional 100 feet north of the highway when they haven't done so for 60 plus years, if ever?

I realize that real fish passage barriers should be addressed, but there must be better places to spend that kind of funding than here.

Hueyman said...

I see these projects. The amount of money being wasted on fish is astronomical. These Hwy 12 bridges could have been done with a pipe. Most dont lead to a stream of any size or at all. Just a hay field.what very few fish are there are not worth the millions. Meanwhile we ride on rough road and the Dept of revenue wants to charge us sales tax on vehicles based not on what we paid for the vehicle but what they say it's worth which is not accurate. I bought my mother in law a wheel chair van and they are trying to charge me more sales tax than I paid for it. Wake up Washingtonians the state is robbing you to feed squander like these fish projects

Concerned Tax Payer said...

I completely agree with the above statement. Many of these fish culvert projects in the area are similar in that they are only opening the habitat up by a few hundred feet if that. This state has gone completely crazy with wasting our money. Why the heck wouldn't we focus on the major waterways first? Opening these ditches up to 18 feet wide is not going to help the fish. It is only helping the large companies that are awarded the over inflated contracts to install these bridges. We do not need the Narrows Bridge along Hwy 12 to pass over a ditch. What we do need is our crumbling bridges that are long past their life expectancy replaced. If we took 1/4 of the money that is being wasted on fish passages and spent it on hatchery production we could use the rest of the money to actually fix our roads and actually have results. These projects will yield NO fish. There is no data showing that an 18' culvert in an overflow ditch helps salmon. What world are these people living in? As for the construction zones being in place for months without any construction, I believe it is just an opportunity for the State Patrol to extract more money out of working tax payers. They have been patrolling it heavily especially in front of the metal shop where there is no construction taking place. If they were really worried about making work zones safe wouldn't they patrol the active construction zones?

neighbor/retired WSDOT engineer said...

Look at the photo above of a cross section of the 18 foot wide culvert. Now picture the 4-foot wide, one-foot deep creek running through it. Even if the upstream culvert was replaced some day by the county, there is not nearly enough water volume to even begin to require a culvert that large. This is insanity. What a waste of funds. Is there no oversight? No cost/benefit analysis?

As for the construction zone traffic, I'm not seeing any added enforcement. Cars and semis still race through at 65 plus, and make left and U-turns at will where prohibited. Yesterday, slowing to 50 entering the westbound end of the construction zone in the right lane, a speeding semi almost hit me as he raced by right at the end of the closed-off left lane. I wish they would increase patrols and protect us drivers who do obey the reduced speed limits.

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