Municipality wants input on Eklutna Bridge

Town meeting to be held in mid-January


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Municipal Manager George Vakalis wants public input before deciding whether or not to close the Eklutna River Bridge.

The Chugiak/Birchwood/Eagle River Rural Road Service Area Board already expressed its opinion a month ago, when it unanimously passed a motion to recommend closing the bridge permanently.

But, Vakalis said, he wants to hold a town meeting on the subject.

“I just need to know what the impacts would be if we closed it,” Vakalis said Friday, Dec. 9.

Though no specific date has been set, Vakalis said the meeting will likely be held in mid-January.

Closing the bridge — located just north of the Thunderbird Falls trailhead parking lot on the — would result in a longer commute for some; however, there’s no doubt the 76-year-old structure is in disrepair, Vakalis said.

“The bridge is deteriorating,” he said. “What we need to do long-term is replace the bridge.”

In the meantime, the bridge is open with weight restrictions.

“If we close it, it’s gonna be very inconvenient,” Vakalis said. “But again, safety is safety.”

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities required the Municipality to post signs with the lowered load limit after conducting an inspection in September 2010.

The load limit restricts all commercial vehicle traffic. A fully loaded F-350 pickup would be over the limit, Municipal Traffic Engineer Stephanie Mormilo said.

Some truckers aren’t heeding the load limit, Vakalis said.

In response, the municipality sent a notice out to trucking associations in November reminding them of the decreased weight limit, Mormilo said.

Vakalis warned heavier traffic using the bridge weakens an already frail structure.

Today, the bridge — which was built in 1935 — can support half the weight it could when constructed, DOT chief communications officer Brenda Hewitt said.

The challenge will be identifying funding to fix or replace the bridge, Vakalis said. (DOT said replacing it is the cheaper option).

Because the bridge is outside of the Anchorage Roads and Drainage Service Area, the municipality can’t bond for it, Vakalis said. The project could be paid for with state grants, he said.

So far, the muni has been unsuccessful in obtaining state money for the bridge.

According to the DOT inspection report, a center arch was added to the bridge in 1950. Two years later, it was widened from one to two lanes.

It is one of about 20 bridges in need of repair in the state, DOT said.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com

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