BELLINGHAM - One of this summer's major road projects is intended to improve both driver safety and fish habitat.
Beginning around July 1, James Street Road will be closed for six months so two small, unsafe bridges can be replaced by one 85-foot span over what will become a new channel for Squalicum Creek.
The wooden bridges over two Squalicum Creek tributaries, on either side of an old railroad grade, have deteriorated enough to require posted weight limits. The new bridge and the stretch of James Street Road between Orchard Drive and Woodstock Way will be widened to include a center turn lane, bicycle lanes and sidewalks.
The road, already a commuter route with an average of 11,400 daily trips, is primed for growth. The King Mountain neighborhood to the north has a capacity for up to 2,000 more homes, according to a report written on May 9 to the city Shoreline Committee.
The road project includes improved parking at Sunset Pond Park. The lot will get marked parking spaces, a single entrance and a single exit.
"This will eliminate the need to back into traffic on James Street," city project engineer Craig Mueller said.
Squalicum Creek will be diverted to the north of its present course so it no longer runs through Sunset Pond. The shallow, artificial lake causes the creek to warm to temperatures that aren't suitable for salmon. The lake also exposes young salmon to predator bass and perch.
Rerouting Squalicum Creek is scheduled for 2015.
Having the creek flow under the bridge rather than through a culvert about 200 feet to the south will keep it from inundating James Street Road during more serious floods, Mueller said.
During the road closure, access to businesses and Sunset Pond Park will be allowed. City officials considered keeping the road open during construction, but the extra work and the larger project footprint would have added 60 percent to the project cost, Mueller said.
Construction is estimated at $3 million to $3.5 million, Mueller said. Contractor bids are due May 29.
"Based on the sheer cost, the environmental impacts and the duration of the disruption, that led to the decision to propose the six-month closure," Mueller said.
The city Shoreline Committee will be asked whether it recommends approval of the project because the work will increase the size of the Sunset Pond parking lot and exceed a limit on bridge width. The committee meets at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, May 15, at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
MAP: NEW BRIDGE ON JAMES STREET ROAD
View James Street Road bridge in Bellingham in a larger map