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Changing Course: the North Meyers Road Bridge

The new 620-foot-long prestressed concrete girder bridge boasts two 12-foot-wide lanes and 8-foot-wide shoulders for pedestrians.

While each bridge that is repaired or replaced has its own set of complexities, when nature changes the conditions of the project, it may mean a whole new set of challenges to deal with. Though the replacement of the crumbling North Meyers Road Bridge over the Yakima River had the usual complications of permitting, design, and budgeting, it was not anticipated that high river flows would change the course of the river just prior to the start of construction.

In 2003, Yakima County took steps to replace the 71-year-old bridge, which acts as a main arterial between the cities of Zillah and Toppenish, Washington. However, the bridge replacement project was held up for several years with a complicated permitting and land acquisition process as the river passes through tribal lands at that location. Then, in February 2016, just as the County was completing the final stages of securing right-of-way easements for the project, the Yakima River changed course and caused a 30-foot section of the southern bridge approach to scour away. The bridge was closed, and its roughly 6,900 daily commuters had to take the long way around.

Design of the replacement bridge went through an extensive review process affecting the construction schedule and environmental permit approval. Utility lines adjacent to the bridge were challenging and expensive to relocate. Even access for evaluating river changes presented a safety hazard, so a drone was used to enter the hollowed out area beneath the road and assess the new river dynamics. At the same time, to retain federal funding, the in-water work windows for the project could not be revised.

Though the County could have suspended the construction, it chose to go forward so federal funds would not be lost. This meant that some right-of-way easements had to be renegotiated, permits revised, and change orders were made early in construction. The partnership with construction contractors proved valuable: brainstorming with them revealed a way to minimize the environmental impacts and cost for placing the temporary work platform piles in the river. This was key to getting a quick revision to the permitting.

Finally, after nearly two years, construction was complete and travelers were relieved to be able to use the bridge. With four spans over the main channel of the Yakima River, the bridge is designed to accommodate future extension on either end if the river meanders into a new alignment. The interior piers and abutments are constructed on drilled shafts to address the changing alignment of the river channel.

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