They've left. Now what? In walking away from its Port Angeles construction site Tuesday, after spending $58 million to build a dry dock there, the state Department of Transportation...

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They’ve left. Now what?

In walking away from its Port Angeles construction site Tuesday, after spending $58 million to build a dry dock there, the state Department of Transportation created a new problem: finding another place to build pontoons and anchors for replacement of the eastern half of the Hood Canal Bridge.

That replacement project, already behind schedule and over budget, nonetheless must go on, said John Conrad, the state Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for engineering and regional operations.

What will happen now with the dry-dock site, where an ancient Indian village and hundreds of intact human skeletons were inadvertently unearthed during construction, hasn’t been decided.

The east half of the Hood Canal Bridge, built in 1961, is in urgent need of repair, state transportation officials say. Its draw span is unreliable. Some of the bridge’s concrete is salt-damaged and falling off in hunks. Reinforcing steel is corroding. The bridge is vulnerable in storms, and its roadway is too narrow to meet current safety standards.

Widening work on the west side of the bridge is about half completed. The west half is not scheduled for replacement. That portion of the bridge is newer — it opened in 1981, replacing the western portion that sank in a storm in 1979.

If the state had stayed with the Port Angeles site, the new half of the bridge was anticipated to be floated into place by 2008, two years behind schedule. Finding a new site for the pontoon and anchor construction could push completion into 2009, Conrad said.


State Department of Transportation:

Tse-Whit-Zen Village News:

With completion that far away, the state will proceed with interim repairs to keep the bridge safe, he said. One of the anchor cables snapped last summer and was replaced.

The state will replace the remaining 17 anchor cables on the eastern side in May or June 2005.

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe asked the state to choose another location for the dry-dock project, begun at the site in August 2003. Construction had inadvertently disturbed more than 300 intact skeletons of the tribe’s ancestors and the largest prehistoric Indian village, Tse-whit-zen, ever found in Washington. The village, parts of which date back 17 centuries, is among the region’s most important archaeological finds.

The state this week will begin advertising for a new pontoon- and anchor-construction site.

The state’s bridge-replacement plan includes 14 new and three refurbished pontoons, and a roadway with wider lanes and shoulders. The Department of Transportation still wants to build the pontoons off site, at either an existing dry dock or a dry dock built for the project. It plans to float the pontoons in place for installation at the bridge.

In addition to looking for new sites, the state doesn’t rule out taking another look at some of the sites it rejected the first time around.

“At this point we are not crossing out anything as an alternative,” Conrad said.

The state is hiring a panel of national experts to review its decision on a new or revised construction contract.

Conrad had no estimate of the new cost of the bridge replacement — including the dry dock — originally budgeted at $274 million.

All construction work was halted at the Port Angeles site Tuesday. Archaeological work already under way, including retrieval of uncovered human remains, will be completed. But no new ground will be explored under the current contract.

A fence will be built around the site, the heavy equipment and construction trailers taken away, and tarps placed over areas that must be kept dry.

Four-story-high steel-sheet piles driven into the ground will remain for now. The sheet piles were custom-made for the job, at a cost of $4.2 million. It may be possible to reuse them, or they may be sold for scrap.

Much of the work already had been completed at the Port Angeles site. About 75 percent of the drainage system was installed; excavation and grading of 90 percent of the upper dry dock was completed, and 25 percent of the concrete slab installed.

About 70 percent of the sheet piles, to hold back water, had been driven into the ground, and a cofferdam had been built at the shoreline.

Talks will begin next month on what to do with the site, which belongs to the state.

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or