Road Board passes motion to close Eklutna Bridge

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - 20:00
Municipality of Anchorage ‘working on the plan’
The bridge over the Eklutna River is in bad shape. The crossing was recently deemed unsafe by the Alaska Department of Transportation, and the local road board now wants it closed to vehicular traffic.

Eagle River Street Maintenance General Foreman Mark Littlefield thinks the Eklutna Bridge is unsafe for vehicle travel. So does the Chugiak/Birchwood/Eagle River Rural Road Service Area Board.

The Road Board unanimously passed a motion to recommend closing the bridge permanently at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 15. Whether that will happen is up to the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Division.

“They are the ones that can close it,” Littlefield said.

According to a previous story in the Star, he bridge was first built during the AlCan highway project in 1935, and later widened in 1952 from one to two lanes.

In all likelihood, it will be closed, said Stephanie Mormilo, Municipal traffic engineer.

“The plans are right now to close the bridge,” she said Friday, Nov. 18. “We are just working on how we can do so, the authority to do so.”

Mormilo couldn’t say when the bridge will be closed.

“We’re currently working on the plan,” she said.

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

The bridge is open but has a weight restriction, according to Littlefield.

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.

Heavy Street Maintenance trucks have been avoiding the bridge for more than a year, Littlefield said.

However, not being able to monitor everyone who drives on the bridge is unsettling, he said.

Littlefield said his worst fear is that a large truck will fall through the bridge into the Eklutna River below.

Littlefield’s fear is a real possibility.

Mormilo said she’s heard that truckers aren’t heeding the weight restrictions. In response, the Municipality sent out a notice to trucking associations reminding them of the lowered weight limit, she said.

Working with Mormilo on the closure is Municipal Manger George Vakalis and Public Works Director Ron Thompson. The three are collaborating because of the two-pronged problem the bridge presents, Mormilo said.

“It’s not just a road issue, it’s an issue with the structure,” she said.

Closing a road or structure indefinitely until an alternative can be constructed rarely happens, Mormilo said. But that’s the municipality’s plan, she said.

“What I have heard is, because it’s a matter of public safety, we will be closing the bridge until funds can be found to fund another,” Mormilo said.

Littlefield said the Road Board has been asking for state funding to repair the bridge for several years. So far, the state hasn’t chipped in a dime.

Littlefield said it’s most likely cheaper to replace the bridge — a likely scenario should the project be funded, according to Mormilo.

The existing structure would stay due to its historical significance and a new bridge would be built parallel to it, she said.

If the bridge does close, it will be an inconvenience, Littlefield said, but safety is his main concern.

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