This is the first of what will be a series of articles provided for your information that will appear in The Bellingham Herald this year. I will focus on a particular topic each month that is designed to inform and update you on our public service initiatives and government actions. I decided to start this series from the ground up, and so have focused this month on something that impacts our daily lives - our county transportation system - particularly, our bridges, and the work that is associated with their maintenance.
BRIDGES OF WHATCOM COUNTY
On Dec. 1, 2012, the Slater Road Bridge over the Nooksack River was damaged by an overheight vehicle. The subsequent closure and repair work required the road to be completely closed to traffic for 21 days until it was re-opened on Friday, Dec. 21. This incident is a reminder of the importance that roadways and bridges serve in our daily activities. Dependable transportation systems enhance our way of life through improved access to emergency response by law enforcement, fire and medical units. In addition, economic activity is enhanced to improve our standard of living through the effective movement of goods and services to meet commercial and industrial demands.
The total cost of the Slater Road repair was approximately $300,000 (actual cost is still being compiled and will be billed to the damaging party's insurance). However, the indirect costs to commercial, industrial and residential users are much more difficult to calculate. The bridge closure impacts included the use of alternate routes through the city of Ferndale, which was inconvenienced as well.
Whatcom County Public Works is responsible for maintenance and improvement activities associated with 161 bridges. All work associated with tracking the condition and maintenance is required to meet national standards coordinated through the Federal Highway Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation. In an effort to meet the stringent requirements, Whatcom County has four certified bridge inspector employees on staff. The recognition of this level of expertise with bridges and federal/state compliance demands has been recognized at the regional, state and national level.
As an intergovernmental cooperative action, Whatcom County Public Works provides bridge inspection services to Bellingham, Everson, Sumas and Lynden. In addition, services have also been provided to San Juan, Skagit, and Grant counties on a service-cost basis agreement.
Whatcom County Public Works performs a comprehensive review on each individual bridge in the system at least once every two years. This review cycle is in compliance with national bridge standards and meets, or exceeds, the minimum review criteria for Washington Department of Transportation. Whatcom County currently has 14 bridges in the road system (outside the city limits) that have load limits, seven of which are structurally deficient. These bridges have reduced-load limitations placed on them to assure that they are safe for the traveling public.
In 2010, Whatcom County Public Works received state and national award recognition for innovative bridge rehabilitation work. The Mosquito Lake Road bridge work involved a renovation that salvaged the existing bridge and brought the structure up to the safety and capacity requirements necessary to meet current demands. While this is an example of utilizing a current structure to meet higher demands in modern times, it is not the first time this structure has been the focus of attention. It was originally built on the Guide Meridian in 1915. In 1955, the bridge no longer met the increased demands of the Guide and was moved to its current location.
In the summer of 2013, the county's primary bridge project for the year is scheduled to begin. The Potter Road Bridge replacement project is located in the Acme area and is anticipated to cost approximately $10 million. The project is supported with grant funding at approximately $8 million through the Federal Highway Administration/Washington State Department of Transportation. The current bridge, built in 1927, was partially re-built in 1974 and has structural concerns that could not be overcome and thus needs replacing.
Also in 2013 are foundation/scour repair projects associated with two bridges. The first is located on the Hannegan Road and crosses the Nooksack River, an anticipated cost of approximately $244,000. The second bridge is located on Mosquito Lake Road and crosses the North Fork Nooksack River, anticipated to cost approximately $177,000. Both projects are 100 percent grant funded.
In 2014 planned bridge projects include the repainting of the Slater Road Bridge, 100 percent grant funded at a cost of $1.8 million (ironically, the funding approval for this work came at almost the same time that it was damaged -- December 2012); a seismic retrofit on the Dakota Creek Bridge on Portal Way to improve the bridge resilience to earthquake impacts at an estimated cost of $2.8 million - 100 percent grant funded; and a bridge on South Pass Road that crosses the Saar Creek, estimated to cost $250,000 funded from the Road Fund.
Safe and efficient transportation systems have become an expectation in today's society. Whatcom County Public Works has committed the resources to meet that expectation. While bridges are only one component of a complex transportation system, they are a very expensive and critical piece of the entire cooperative effort of city, county, state and federal systems.
As your county executive I am committed to investing taxpayers' dollars to keep existing infrastructure safe and secure, thereby protecting the many millions of dollars that all our constituents have invested in Whatcom County's vital transportation system. If you have any questions regarding the county's transportation system please visit our website at whatcomcounty.us (go to General Government Services and select Roads/Public Works) or feel free to contact us at 360-676-6692. Any other questions or concerns you have can be directed to me at my office at 360-676-6717 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws to provide to share updates about Whatcom County issues and projects.