Meeting scheduled to discuss Eklutna River Bridge

Municipality seeks public input on potential closure


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A public meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 23 at Mirror Lake Middle School to discuss the potential closure of the deteriorating Eklutna River Bridge.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting will begin at 6 p.m., according to Public Works Director Ron Thompson.

Thompson said he and most of the Public Works, Traffic and Street Maintenance departments, along with Municipal Manager George Vakalis and the Chugiak/Birchwood/Eagle River Rural Road Service Area Board (CBERRRSA) will all be present.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities imposed weight restrictions on the bridge after conducting an inspection in September 2010. The load limit prohibits all commercial vehicle traffic.

But, Thompson said, many still don’t understand which vehicles are permitted to cross the bridge.

“We’re gonna identify and tell everybody what those weight restrictions are,” he said.

Municipal traffic engineer Stephanie Mormilo said a fully loaded F-350 pickup towing extra weight would be over the limit.

Despite posted signs at the bridge, Thompson said he’s received complaints that people haven’t been adhering to the weight restrictions.

“It’s a serious issue,” he said. “There are serious problems with the bridge.”

The CBERRRSA board unanimously passed a motion to recommend closing the bridge permanently at its meeting Nov. 15, 2011. In December 2011, Vakalis said he wanted the public’s input before deciding whether or not to close the structure located just north of the Thunderbird Falls trailhead parking lot.

“We just wanted to kind of get the public involved,” Thompson said. “It’s an issue in that area and for the homeowners in that area.”

Thompson said one goal of the meeting is to find out what would happen should the bridge be closed.

“We don’t know how many people in the area use it,” he said.

Thompson said a handout with pictures discussing what’s wrong with the bridge will be available at the meeting.

“We’re gonna try to get everybody aware of every issue,” he said.

Today, the bridge can support half the weight it could when constructed in 1935, according to DOT. A center arch was added to the bridge in 1950, and it was widened from one to two lanes in 1952.

The road board so far has been unsuccessful in obtaining state money for the bridge. DOT has said replacing the bridge would be cheaper than fixing it.

Thompson said the municipality wants to gather as much information as possible before making a decision.

“We’re not really looking to have to close it,” he said. “But it might be the inevitable nature of the bridge.”

 

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

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