The bridge at Kettle Falls was built in 1929 to eliminate delays, but lately, it has delayed construction deadlines, traffic, truckers, and emergency vehicles.
Work on the bridge was delayed before construction even started in August, according to Bob Hilmes, the project engineer employed by WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation).
The bridge needed repairs over two years ago, according to Hilmes. When two gaping holes opened on the bridge over the past winter due to abrasive snowplows, it became apparent that construc¬tion timetables needed to be pushed up.
After WSDOT filled the holes, speed limits were reduced on the bridge to preserve the structure, said Hil¬mes.
WSDOT hired Razz Construction of Bellingham to undertake the project.
Hilmes said that there are eight other subcontractors besides the main contractor working the project. Two of the subcontractors are from Colville—Knife River, who will be laying the asphalt, and Colville Valley Concrete, who will supply the concrete. Hilmes has also hired several subcontractors from the Spokane area.
The surface of the bridge has not been redone in 71 years, according to Hilmes.
Traffic delays continued when the project started weeks later than its original starting date.
Ken Sweet, site supervisor of Razz Construction, said that the delays were caused by “one thing or another—short on materials and scheduling.”
One of the biggest delays to the project, according to Hilmes, was the containment system that had to be afixed to the belly of the bridge. The concrete on the bridge is removed by hydro demolition, and Hilmes said EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations require a container system under the bridge so that the toxic water and rubble will not fall and contaminate Lake Roosevelt below.
According to Hilmes, the container is a common regulation for any bridge construction site.
“The container threw me back three weeks,” Sweet admitted.
After the container was attached, the crew blasted away the cement on the north-bound lane and started to lay cement. Hilmes expects the cement to be finished during the planned (7 p.m. to 5 a.m.) closures on the nights of Oct. 3-4. He said that once the cement has dried, the northbound lane should be open to traffic by Oct. 6. The crew will then start hydro-blasting on the southbound lane.
Meanwhile, traffic continues to be delayed by the night clo¬sures.
When the bridge closes, traffic is detoured 68 miles via State Route 25 and Northport/Flat Creek Road.
Traffic supervisor Dagmar Devere said that most of the locals have patiently dealt with the bridge closures by parking cars on both sides of the bridge and walking across the pedestrian sidewalk that is being kept open for the public during the duration of the project. She said that the only frustrated drivers are those who have forgotten about the bridge closures.
Devere feels especially sympathetic toward the out-of-state drivers on closure nights.
She met an elderly woman traveling from Oregon to Grand Forks, B.C. who was delayed by the bridge closure. Devere advised the woman to spend the night at a local motel where she was staying herself.
“I even called the motel ahead so they would give her a good rate like they gave me,” said Devere.
Devere said that most of the traffic “Takes it easy [because] they know that the bridge needs to be fixed…especially the locals.”
But the traffic supervisor has also dealt with irate drivers on the bridge. She was almost hit by a truck driver who ran a red light (traffic signalization is located at each end of the bridge during the duration of the project).
She said the trucker had driven through a red light on the tail end of southbound traffic. She did not want the northbound traffic delayed by him, so she ran in front of the truck to stop him.
“I was running and waving, and he kept proceeding. He looked down at me, rolled up his window, and took off. If I hadn’t stepped back, he would’ve smashed my toes. So I called the (Washington) State Patrol on him,” said Devere.
She admitted that most of the truck drivers patiently suffer the delays.
“A lot of them [truckers] smile and wave, and they slow down for us,” she says. “There are still a few—there will always be a few—belligerent ones that push it.”
Most understand the delays
Mickey Mumua of Tiger Trucking in Colville said that he is frustrated by the delays because he is paid by the truckload.
“You’re paid by the load, so it causes you extra time,” said Mumau. Despite the frustrating loss of time and money, he said that the bridge delays are not really a “big deal”.
“It’s kind of frustrating when you have to be somewhere, but the bridge has to be fixed,” Mumau admitted.
Mumau does not have to cross the bridge multiple times a day, but he said that truckers who cross the bridge over four times a day likely lose an hour of driving time. But he said that most truckers accept the delays as an aspect of the job.
“In the trucking business, we understand the delays,” he said.
Several other drivers (who are not truckers) have also ignored the stoplights on the bridge, according to Sweet. He is worried that the “few belligerent” drivers who ignore the traffic signals will hurt his men.
“I about had a couple of my other guys get hit pulling out because somebody had ran a red light and was speeding through there,” said Sweet.
Sweet, concerned about the safety of his crew, called for law enforcement to help with traffic control. He has not received any law enforcement help.
“The city says it’s not their responsibility… county says they’re undermanned…and the state (WSP), I haven’t really got an answer out of them,” said Sweet.
He is worried that an accident will be the only thing that will stop drivers from running the light.
Should be finished by month’s end
Anthony Gocken, cashier at the Barney’s Junction Quik Stop, said he is mostly con¬cerned about the delays for the emergency vehicles that need quick passage across the bridge. He has seen several emergency vehicles delayed at the bridge. Other than the emergency vehicles, Gocken is not frustrated with the delays, even though he has to shut down the business at 6 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. on closure nights because he lives in Kettle Falls.
Despite the delays, Sweet said that construction on the bridge project will be finished by the end of October. He expects to finish on schedule.