Downtown Bellingham bridge to close for six months

The city will close a downtown bridge for up to six months to enable heavier trucks to use it.

The closure of Chestnut-Bay Bridge is expected around June and comes on the heels of another long-term bridge closure. Also initially advertised to last six months, the closure of James Street Bridge is now pushing eight months.

Public Works staff assured City Council members on Monday, Feb. 23, that the city is writing language into the contract for the upcoming bridge work that should increase the chances of the contractor meeting the initial schedule.

“We’ve certainly taken some lessons learned from the James Street project to incorporate into the current contract, to minimize the impacts and minimize the duration,” said Steve Day, project manager for the Chestnut-Bay Bridge upgrade.

“We will have in the contract some specifications in terms of the duration that the bridge can be fully closed, at which time they would have to open it up to traffic at some point,” Public Works Director Ted Carlson said.

Businesses in the construction area will remain open, city officials said. Organizers for major events that could be affected by the closure, including Ski to Sea and the Bellingham Bay Marathon, already have been informed about the work.

The L-shaped bridge over BNSF Railway tracks at the intersection of Chestnut and Bay streets was built in 1928 and is restricted from carrying oversized loads, city staff said. The upgrade will remove the weight restriction. Heavy trucks now detour around the bridge, leaving Roeder Avenue at F Street and going up Holly Street.

The bridge’s deck will be reinforced, but a more expensive rebuild would be needed to correct seismic deficiencies, Carlson said.

Bridge improvements include a bicycle lane leading up to the bridge from Roeder. To make room for the bike lane, the left turn from Roeder onto Bay Street will be eliminated, Carlson said.

BNSF is requiring the city to install permanent safety fences on the renovated bridge, directly above the tracks.

Carlson said Public Works tries to avoid closing busy streets, but in this case the city is saving $600,000 by opting for the full-time closure. Of the $3.7 million project cost, $2.6 million is from a federal grant and the rest is paid for by the city. The bridge handles more than 7,000 vehicles a day, according to recent traffic counts.

Saving money and reducing harm to wetlands prompted the city to also close James Street Road full time, from Sunset Pond Park to Orchard Drive. City officials say that road, originally expected to open in December, now will open in early March.

That’s just one week away, but officials won’t be pinned down to a date. The city does not plan to announce the opening in advance, Carlson said in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

“We will send something out once it is open,” he said.

Updates on the Chestnut-Bay Bridge upgrade are at cob.org. Type “ Chestnut Bay Bridge” in the search box.