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DOT continues Hood Canal bridge publicity effort

If you are surprised when the Hood Canal bridge closes at 12:01 a.m. on May 1 for up to six weeks, don't blame the state Department of Transportation.

DOT spokeswoman Becky Hixson talked about preparations for the upcoming closure at the Dec. 2 Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at The Cedars at Dungeness.

It was part of a public education campaign that began in 2003 and has included 48 public education presentations so far this year with 17 more scheduled through April 2009.

The effort also has included five presentations in 2003, 23 in 2004, 18 in 2005, 27 in 2006 and 16 in 2007.

Closure of the 1.5-mile bridge that connects Jefferson and Kitsap counties is necessary so the transition spans and roadway-topped pontoons for the east half of the 47-year-old floating roadway can be replaced.

Perhaps the most visible part of the effort is the electronic countdown sign erected the afternoon of Dec. 1 by contractor Kiewit-General on the Kitsap County side of the bridge. Beginning at 150 days, eight hours, six minutes and 33 seconds, the sign is counting down the days until the closure begins. Then it will be reset to start the countdown to the bridge's reopening on June 12.

Hixson said as soon as the bridge closes, the contractor will begin cutting it up to remove it.

The old bridge was sold in November 2002 to several private companies that plan to use some of the 5,000-ton sections for marinas in Canada and Costa Rica.

Although the aging bridge will be in use through the coming winter, Hixson said it won't pose a danger to drivers but there might be delays when the drawspan sticks while being opened and closed.

The new drawspan won't open and close faster but it will be more reliable and not stick as often, she said.

"Don't worry, you're going to be fine this winter. It just takes more work to keep it in good working order."

Hixson said the options for travelers during the six-week closure are a free passenger shuttle across Hood Canal that includes free transit service and park and ride lots, flying Kenmore Air Express from Port Angeles to Boeing Field, taking the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry then driving to Interstate 5, driving around Hood Canal on U.S. Highway 101 to state Route 3 and staying home.

State Route 106 around the south end of Hood Canal isn't recommended as a detour route because it is a narrow, windy road with no shoulders, she said.

The intersections at state Route 119 and U.S. Highway 101 and state Route 3 and state Route 16 in Gorst will have traffic control, Hixson said.

If you plan ahead, using the water shuttle will save time versus the other options, she said.

The park and ride lots will be fenced and lighted with 24-hour security and people can leave cars there overnight if they want to keep one on each side, Hixson said.

"But no one answer will solve everyone's problems."

Resources also will be stationed along the route to respond to fuel or other spills and wrecks as soon as possible, she said.

A "comprehensive" signage plan also is in place as there was for the two two-day bridge closures in 2005, Hixson said.

During that closure, they learned that one sign on I-5 south of Olympia was too far away to be changed manually, so they have invested in a remote device so it can be changed from their Tacoma office, she said.

The signs will tell people to listen to radio broadcasts or call a telephone number because DOT wants drivers talking to a person to avoid misunderstandings, Hixson said.

A 24-hour call center will open March 1 and the state highway map has been changed to read "Hood Canal Bridge" instead of "State Highway 104," she said.

The original Hood Canal bridge was built from January 1958 until August 1961. The west half sunk on Feb. 13, 1979, and construction of its replacement was completed in October 1982.

Construction of the new east half is 87-percent complete, according to the project's Web site. The fourth group of pontoons was completed in August and the roadway assembly is scheduled to be completed in December.

The trusses will be delivered in January and February and the electrical and mechanical testing on the drawspan will be completed in February. The superstructure construction will be completed in April prior to the six-week closure.

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