Eklutna River Bridge remains open

Rusting structure’s carrying capacity cut in half, but DOT says traffic can still cross


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The Eklutna River Bridge remains open with weight restrictions.

On Monday, Dec. 5, Municipal Manager George Vakalis’ office said he was still assessing the situation and that Vakalis would have an update on the bridge’s potential closure as early as today (Dec. 8) or Friday, Dec. 9.

Municipal Traffic Engineer Stephanie Mormilo and Public Works Director Ron Thompson are working with Vakalis on the issue.

On Nov. 22, Thompson said Mayor Dan Sullivan and Risk Manager Glenn Smith met with Vakalis to discuss taking further action beyond posting signs with the weight restrictions.

The load limit restricts all commercial vehicles from using the bridge, Mormilo said. A fully loaded F-350 pickup towing extra weight would likely surpass the limit, she said.

However, truckers aren’t heeding the restriction.

Three weeks ago, Mormilo said the Municipality sent out a notice to trucking associations reminding them of the lowered weight limit after hearing that commercial vehicles are still using the bridge.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities deemed the bridge, which is located just north of the Thunderbird Falls trailhead parking lot, unsafe after an inspection in September 2010.

The inspection report can be viewed on the Municipality’s website:

http://www.muni.org/Departments/works/operations/streets/Service/CBERRRSA/Eklutna%20River%20Bridge%20Special%20Inspection_2010.pdf.

In the report, DOT recommends to “promptly rehabilitate lateral bracing system or replace bridge as lateral load capacity is severely degraded.”

Concrete on top of the bridge has worn away to expose steel rebar, DOT chief communications officer Brenda Hewitt said. Secondary supports underneath the bridge are broken, which has cut its carrying capacity by 50 percent, she said.

“It’s halved the amount of weight that can be held by that particular bridge,” Hewitt said.

Paint is also wearing away and exposing steel to the elements, Hewitt said, which is causing the bridge to rust. That rust and corrosion are eating away at the metal, she said.

After the inspection, DOT required the Municipality to post sings with the lowered load limit.

“We just don’t want anybody to fall in the river,” Hewitt said.

The Chugiak/Birchwood/Eagle River Rural Road Service Area Board unanimously passed a motion to recommend closing the bridge permanently at its Nov. 15 meeting.

The Road Board has been unsuccessful so far in seeking state funds to fix or replace the bridge.

Replacing it is the cheaper option, Hewitt said.

The bridge is on the Road Board’s list of top 10 capital improvement projects for fiscal year 2012. Area wide road and drainage improvements — including The Tablelands subdivision — tops the list. At No. 2 is a sand storage facility, which the federal government is requiring be built by 2014.

The Road Board’s next meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 13 at Eagle River Town Center at 7 p.m.

According to the inspection report, the bridge was built in 1935 and a center arch was added in 1950. It was widened from one to two lanes in 1952.

Hewitt speculated that because traffic has other options to avoid using the bridge, fixing it hasn’t been a top priority.

There are about 20 bridges in the state in need of repair, Hewitt said.

Hewitt urged all bridge users to follow the posted load limits.

“It’s your bridge. Take good care of it,” she said. “Please obey the limits. Because otherwise, you’re causing it to fall apart faster.”

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