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On 25 September 2009, BergerABAM and state, local, and tribal agencies participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new Elwha Bridge. Representing BergerABAM was Bob Fernandes, the Elwha Bridge's project manager and vice president of BergerABAM's Public Works and Transportation division.
The historic Elwha River Bridge was known to have serious structural deficiencies since 1992 and was in load-restricted service. In addition, the existing bridge was very narrow-a one-lane bridge-with substandard alignment metrics that needed to be corrected. By 1997, through a series of public meetings, and in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Transportation, Clallam County determined that the bridge needed to be removed and replaced using Federal Bridge Replacement funds.
Clallam County selected BergerABAM to replace the existing bridge in 2003. The bridge is located in an environmentally challenging site spanning an area that had views of migrating and spawning salmon in the river below the bridge, as well as views of eagles in flight and nesting above the bridge. The bridge also connects the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe's reservation with other tribal lands in the area. Because of the scenic nature of the site and the potential for the new bridge to provide an important river crossing for the Olympic Discovery Trail, it was clear to the local community that the bridge replacement project was a significant opportunity to fulfill a wide variety of community goals.
Assisting the County with an extensive public involvement process, BergerABAM held seven meetings with the Design Advisory Committee (DAC) assembled by the County. This committee, made up of representatives from the community, provided guidance and input during the project's study phase and early stages of development of the construction plans and specifications.
Accommodating the Olympic Discovery Trail on the new bridge proved to be very challenging. Providing access for pedestrians and cyclists on the roadway deck with shoulders or sidewalks, as would normally be done, would have required a wider bridge with extensive cuts into all the steep slopes along the roadway approaches to the bridge. It would have also required the construction of an access trail, traversing steep slopes up from an abandoned railroad grade approximately 70 feet below the roadway deck. All of this would have led to much higher environmental impacts and construction costs. The key was to come up with a cost-effective solution that accommodated minimal impact on the environment, as well as the capacity to appreciate that environment in a strong, aesthetically pleasing, structure.
“The committee helped screen and select alternatives and provided advice on the preferred alternative,” said Bob Fernandes. “BergerABAM provided technical expertise and design guidance on construction issues, and the DAC paid attention to important details; their advice was practical and down-to-earth. We were given good, practical suggestions without breaking the bank.” The committee chose a balanced cantilever concrete roadway bridge with a pedestrian bridge hanging below it, as the solution that best balanced the competing interests of cost, aesthetics, ability to accommodate the pedestrian crossing of the river, and ability to minimize environmental impacts.
The roadway bridge is a three-span, cast-in-place, post-tensioned concrete box girder bridge. The two main bridge piers are supported by four concrete piers, each 10 feet in diameter and extending approximately 100 feet below the river. The bridge was built outward from the piers until it was joined in the middle. Construction only had to minimally enter the river below and that was to pull out the old bridge. The rest of the construction was done from above. The pedestrian deck was designed as 56, 8-foot-long precast panels suspended from steel rods anchored to the roadway bridge above. Having the pedestrian deck separated from the main roadway deck allows both pedestrians and drivers to enjoy the view.
The cost of the project exceeded the County's federal funding, requiring the County to find other sources of revenue and use its own resources. The very high inflation in construction costs during the planning of the project further exacerbated the situation. The County persevered, obtaining funds from multiple sources in addition to making a substantial contribution of its own. Fortunately, the project was designed to include many features that were attractive to potential funding partners.
For example, early in the planning of the project, construction access for heavy construction equipment was identified as a significant issue. BergerABAM worked with the County to design and permit an access road for construction of the bridge. Following an old railroad grade that connects the project site with the City of Port Angeles, this access road became a new section of the Olympic Discovery Trail upon completion of the bridge project, an objective that was supported through funding from the State Recreation and Conservation Office.
The access road also provided an opportunity to secure funding from the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS is leading an effort to restore Elwha River salmon runs through removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams. This recovery program will rely on a Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife operated fish hatchery located approximately one-quarter mile downstream of the bridge. Modifications to the hatchery and its access road are being implemented as part of the dam removal project. Because the NPS was able to use the Elwha River Bridge access road for their hatchery road project, they contributed funds to the project, further minimizing the cost for Clallam County.
Craig Jacobs, Clallam County Public Works Director, thanked BergerABAM for its contribution to the project, “We appreciate your work and the work from those in your firm designing and helping us through this project, which is one of the largest ones most of us here will ever be involved in. You have been a key partner...”
“As an avid cyclist, as well as an engineer and project manager, it was personally satisfying to see the successful completion of a sustainable community project and to see so many people already using it,” said Bob.