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Plan for bridge closure, DOT representative urges

Begin investigating your options and potential detours now before the Hood Canal bridge closes for up to six weeks in May and June next year, Becky Hixson from the state Department of Transportation told the Port of Port Angeles board of commissioners at their Monday meeting.

Hixson, DOT's communications manager, said during her numerous public appearances she has found virtually everyone knows the Hood Canal bridge is closing but many don't know what options are available for getting on and off the North Olympic Peninsula.

They include alternative transportation, alternative routes, Rideshare and an emergency medical bus, she said.

Free public transportation will be offered from Port

Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend and Port Ludlow to a free passenger-only ferry between South Point in Jefferson County and Lofall in Kitsap County, Hixson said.

Then free public transportation will be available to nearby communities plus the Shine and Port Gamble park and ride lots, she said.

Free public transportation also will be available to the ferry terminals at Bainbridge Island, Kingston and Bremerton, she said.

Hixson said putting a car ferry on the route would cost $40 million and the federal government wouldn't fund it because it would be only temporary and those roads couldn't handle that much traffic anyway.

The South Point to Lofall passenger ferry will take only 12 minutes, so it's good for providing emergency medical transportation, she said.

"It saves time versus driving," Hixson said.

Given the free shuttles, the only costs to get to Seattle-

Tacoma International Airport would be the ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle and the Metro Transit bus ride, although it will take more time, she said.

WSU Cooperative Extension will set up Internet terminals at Port Hadlock for "telecommuting" and Rideshare also is available online at www.rideshareon line.com, Hixson said.

Rideshare provides a database for drivers to identify their transportation needs - such as vanpools or swapping vehicles on either side of Puget Sound - and be matched up with others with similar needs.

Hixson said her guess is the closure is going to last less than the six weeks being planned.

Kiewit-General's contract states the closure will be no more than six weeks unless there are weather delays, Hixson said.

But the contract also has a week's worth of incentive payments for this part of the contract and Kiewit-General has qualified for all its incentive payments so far, she said.

Freight shipments have been one of her concerns, Hixson said.

The larger trucking companies aren't concerned because they will just drive around Puget Sound or reschedule trips, she said.

But the smaller truckers are concerned so maybe the first morning shuttle and last evening shuttle could be used to transport small amounts of supplies such as for auto parts stores, Hixson said.

State Route 106 that hugs the southern end of Puget Sound is not a state-approved detour route because it is small and winding with no shoulders, Hixson said.

"It is not a designated detour route, we would never recommend it. We don't want people with motor homes going down that road," Hixson said.

Hixson said three construction projects are scheduled during the bridge closure.

One is the new Purdy Creek bridge being built along U.S. Highway 101 in Mason County but that contract states traffic can't be restricted during the bridge closure, she said.

So the project's 35 mph construction zone will start farther back, Hixson said.

The second is a Mason County sewer project along state Routte 3, but the contractor will work on the sewer plant during the bridge closure instead of laying pipe in the ground, she said.

The third is a culvert replacement project on state Route 104 that will require drivers from Port Townsend to turn onto Shine Road to access the park and ride lot, Hixson said.

This was the best time to do that project, she said.

The first bridge truss is finished and the second is scheduled to be completed in December, Hixson said. Then they will be installed in February and March, she said.

All 14 pontoons and 20 anchors are done and the roadway on top of the pontoons will be done by April, Hixson said.

They are working on electrical, mechanical and hydraulic systems underneath the roadway that will make the drawspan work, she said.

A medical bus service available by appointment will be established for life-threatening cases such as kidney dialysis because surveys have shown 10 percent of trips across the bridge are for medical appointments, Hixson said.

People also could find another pharmacy or doctor on this side of the bridge during the closure.

"We haven't worked out access to VA hospitals," Hixson said.

DOT officials are at Bremerton talking about that very issue, she noted.

Kenmore Air Express also is increasing its passenger and cargo flights between Seattle and Port Angeles.

Washington State Ferries also might have a nighttime freight sailing from Seattle to Port Townsend and back, Hixson said.

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