Bridge bypass under construction in November. Photo: WSDOT

WSDOT said it combined multiple improvements into one plan in effort to save time and money and to minimize the impact on traffic disruption.

Washington State Department of Transportation is on track to finish its State Route 302 construction on schedule, although no relief is on the horizon for drivers.

WSDOT’s plan for SR-302 includes improvements from Elgin-Clifton to Purdy, but the main slowdown for drivers is located at Minter Creek. Over the course of the next year, contractors will remove the culvert the creek flows through and a new concrete girder bridge will be installed.

Work crews are currently creating a temporary bypass to allow traffic to continue moving once construction begins in earnest.

The Minter Creek project is estimated to free up 25 miles of usable salmon habitat by removing barriers to fish traveling upstream. Two more culverts on Little Minter Creek will be upgraded to larger, boxed concrete structures. Continued one-lane and shoulder closures of culvert sites should be expected until work is completed, currently slated for fall 2020.

The culvert replacement is the result of a lawsuit that pitted tribal authorities against Washington state in a dispute over salmon management. The tribes argued in 2001 that WSDOT was responsible for replacing culverts that acted as a barrier to returning salmon. Seventeen years later, after a series of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a split decision and defaulted to an earlier ruling in favor of the tribes. Washington was ordered to fix hundreds of areas deemed barriers — fixes estimated to cost over $3 billion in culvert expansion and bridge construction.

The other repairs will involve more traditional highway maintenance. Intersections along SR-302 are receiving curb ramps at crosswalks, bringing them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ramps will serve to accommodate wheelchairs and create a smooth transition for bicyclists. Eight miles of road will be repaved, including the Purdy Bridge, which will also undergo deck structure rehabilitation. Supplementary work such as guardrail repair and erosion control will be performed throughout.

Drivers began to see the effects of the project in late August, as contractors began brush-clearing around Minter Creek to create space for equipment and a two-lane bypass. Repaving is on hold until summer 2020, as warm, dry conditions are needed. Purdy Bridge repairs will be conducted at the same time as paving and will shut down the Purdy Spit for three as-yet-undetermined weekends. Drivers will be diverted around the head of Burley Lagoon.

According to WSDOT, at least two weeks of notice will be provided once closures are scheduled. “It makes more sense to do just one weekend of work instead of being stretched out, doing just a few hours a night, and having to get it ready to open up in the morning,” said Andrew Larson, WSDOT assistant project engineer.

Although multiple SR-302 delays over the next year is a bleak forecast for KP residents, according to Larson, combining multiple improvements into one plan saves both time and money.

“When we’re doing it all at the same time with a contractor, we can get a better price by combining them together instead of having the separate prices of the individual projects,” Larson said. For projects like the Purdy Bridge repaving and deck repair, which are technically two separate undertakings, one cycle of bridge closure can address both problems. “This way, instead of doing one project one year, and the next year having to come back and disrupt traffic again, it made sense to do it with this project, when the workers were going to have to disrupt traffic anyway.”

WSDOT’s monthly reports indicate the project is currently on schedule. Approximately $15 million has been budgeted for the completion of all planned work, with the majority earmarked for the new Minter Creek bridge.