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Large freight shipments still an issue as bridge closure nears

How to move large freight shipments quickly and at low cost arose as the biggest issue during a state Department of Transportation workshop on next year's Hood Canal bridge closure.

The Sept. 23 workshop in Port Angeles was the second of two presentations held last week on the issue including a Sept. 22 presentation to the Port of Port Angeles board of commissioners at its regular meeting.

The bridge closes at 12:01 a.m. Friday, May 1, for up to six weeks so the east half's transition spans and floating portion can be replaced.

A counter marks the time remaining. It can be accessed by going to DOT's Web site, www.wsdot.wa.gov, clicking on "Projects," then clicking on "SR 104 Hood Canal Bridge project."

Becky Hixson, communications manager for the state Department of Transportation, said David Moseley, director of the state ferry system, announced on Friday that if money can be found, a Port Townsend to Edmonds overnight ferry would be available for freight shipments.

It would leave Edmonds at 8:30 p.m., then leave Port Townsend at 11 p.m. and return to Edmonds, she said.

But the state also is wondering if it is going to be used, Hixson said.

A meeting to discuss these and other bridge closure issues is being planned for Oct. 14 in Seattle, she said.

Hixson said DOT also has called 60 major suppliers to let them know the bridge will be closing next year.

Edward Tolan, fiber procurement manager for Nippon Paper Industries USA Co. Ltd., said his company sends out 30 trucks a day to pick up chemicals for the company's pulp and paper manufacturing processes - they can't be stored at the company's building on Marine Drive. The company's trucks could go through Forks but that takes time and the company can't run out of chemicals, he said.

Tolan said they must keep the plant running and some chemical deliveries can't be delayed for 24 hours while truckers driving around Puget Sound stop to take their required rest.

"It's doable. It's only money," Tolan said of the closure's impact on his company.

Mindy DeSha from Interfor Pacific said deliveries that came over on that overnight ferry between Seattle and Port Townsend would sit at the company's sawmill because no one would be there to receive them.

Her company's drivers would exceed their legal limit of hours before they reached Port Angeles if they drove through Shelton to get around Hood Canal, DeSha said.

She sends 60 trucks to Seattle and Tacoma daily and now they could be looking at no trucks for six weeks, DeSha said.

"This isn't a weekend," she said, referring to the two three-day closures in August 2005.

Several people suggested the state could broker a "Freightshare" program that could match empty trucks returning to one side of Hood Canal with freight that needs to get to the other side.

It would be modeled on its Rideshare program that matches commuting drivers with passengers.

Rhonda Curry from Olympic Medical Center said the hospital is finalizing a contract with Kenmore Air for transportation and their Sysco drivers will drive around so they will modify their freight receiving times.

Hixson said that as far as getting people across, two passenger-only ferries will provide service across Hood Canal every 30 minutes from 4 a.m. until midnight using the ferry system's priority loading protocol.

Unpaved park and ride lots will be fenced and lighted with 24-hour security and 1,500 parking spaces, she said.

DOT also is working with both Google and Mapquest to provide detour information for their mapping functions and advertising, including postcards, will begin in January, Hixson said.

A toll-free "8-7-7" number for trip planning will begin March 1, she said.

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