Despite meetings held Tuesday, it will probably take a couple of months before the state Department of Transportation has solutions to the problem of heavy trucks being unable to legally cross into Aberdeen over its aging bridges.
A meeting was held Tuesday at the state Department of Transportation headquarters in Olympia in response to last Friday’s meeting between truckers, law enforcement and the Department of Transportation. The initial meeting was held at the Hoquiam Licensing Agency, a private business that sells licenses to truckers on behalf of the state.
At Friday’s meeting, Kevin Dayton, DOT region administrator for this area, learned extra-heavy truck loads cannot legally travel into Aberdeen over its bridges, particularly the Wishkah River Bridge and the Chehalis River Bridge. The only detour available is costly in terms of time, approximately one hour, and money, because of high gas prices. The curvey detour is also said to be more dangerous for the big trucks.
Dayton said he was “a bit embarrassed” to learn about the significant impact the problems with these bridges are causing in this area. “It took some major frustration from the local community before I was aware of it,” said Dayton.
He called Tuesday’s meeting to get the DOT’s bridge experts and engineers looking into finding a solution to load restrictions on the bridges.
The restriction per axle on both the Chehalis River Bridge and the Wishkah River bridge is 19,000 pounds. The restriction for the Chehalis Bridge was lowered from 19,500 pounds per axle in 2003; the Wishkah River Bridge weight restriction of 19,000 pounds has been in place since before 2001.
The bridges were built before trucks were able to carry such heavy loads, Dayton explained. The Wishkah Bridge was built in 1925; the Chehalis River Bridge was built in 1955.
One local company, Brundage Bone Concrete Pumping, received an exemption on April 18 for crossing the Chehalis River Bridge with a limit of 21,500 pounds per axle for the duration of the construction of the DOT’s 520 pontoon project. To reduce stress on the bridge, the trucks are required to straddle the centerline of the southbound or northbound lanes when traversing the bridge.
The distribution of the load across two lanes is to reduce stress, which is beginning to cause fatigue cracking on the deck of that bridge. “That’s the issue they are concerned about, with constant wear and tear some of the members are showing signs of cracking,” Dayton said.
He is asking the engineers to determine if a similar solution of heavily loaded trucks using two lanes would work for the Wishkah River Bridge. Additionally, he is asking the bridge experts to figure out if there are some repairs that are needed to either of the bridges that would help.
He said he asked bridge experts to start with seeing if routes can be configured to get the heavy loads over the bridges, and then asked them to see if there is something they can do on either of the bridges to help. “If it’s a beam that’s cracking, let’s replace it,” he said.
Dayton said he has respect for local truckers and doesn’t like to see them frustrated. “We have got to get together and hopefully find some work-around until we can get to replacing those bridges,” he said. With money tight, there are no bridge replacements in the Grays Harbor area in the foreseeable future.
It may take a while for DOT’s bridge department to find solutions to the Chehalis and Wishkah bridge woes, noting this structural analysis needs to be fit into the existing workload. “If it takes much more than a couple of months I will get pretty impatient,” Dayton said, noting he will “just continue to pester them,” to find a solution.
Deborah Tracy, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3936, or by email at email@example.com