Area bridge projects funded

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WALLA WALLA — Federal funds have been slated to replace three aging bridges in Walla Walla and Columbia counties.

The bridges are among 70 city and county projects across the state that will receive a portion of $130 million in funds for repair or replacement. The awards were announced Wednesday by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

In a release, Kathleen Davis, WSDOT director of Highways and Local Programs, said the money will come from the Federal Highway Fund.

Columbia County was chosen to receive more than $4.6 million to replace two bridges over the Tucannon and Touchet rivers. Walla Walla County will receive $664,000 to replace a bridge over Dry Creek in Dixie.

Drew Woods, Columbia County public works director, said “we’re pushing for construction in 2016” to replace the 160-foot long Vernon Smith Bridge over the Touchet River with a new concrete structure.

Construction on the Starbuck Bridge over the Tucannon River is likely to begin in 2017. The 200-foot long bridge will also be replaced with a new concrete structure, Woods said.

The first step for both projects will be design and permits. The county will also seek additional grants to meet the 20 percent matching requirement for federal funding, he said.

Woods said both bridges are rated as “structurally deficient.” Load limits have been placed on the Vernon Smith Bridge and traffic on the Starbuck Bridge has been reduced to a single lane to avoid restricting loads.

Replacement of the Starbuck Bridge will be especially welcome by local grain growers, Woods said. About a quarter of the county’s grain harvest is hauled across the span to be brought to grain elevators.

In the release, Davis said state transportation officials and the Bridge Replacement Advisory Committee received and reviewed 87 applications from around the state.

The committee is comprised of bridge and engineering professionals, with three members each from Washington cities and counties. In addition to funds for replacements, other grants will pay for repair and restoration work.

“Some of these bridges are beyond the point of repair and need to be replaced,” Davis said. “Many of them, though, can be repaired, which will add many more years of operation to their lifespan.”

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