Officials concerned over impacts from scheduled WSDOT projects

The state Department of Transportation has several projects planned over the next few years that will impact the North Olympic Peninsula, and local officials are voicing concerns about the inevitable delays.

At a Clallam County Commissioners meeting Monday (Nov. 21), officials said they should work together to develop a county-wide approach to dealing with disruptions caused by a series of projects scheduled to occur over the next few years.

“As we look at these projects, for the next three years we’re going to see major impacts to the [U.S. Highway] 101 corridor,” said Nathan West, city manager for the city of Port Angeles. “The success of our businesses during this difficult time is something that we should come together on.”

DOT has planned several projects on the Peninsula, including the removal of several fish barriers, the installation of roundabouts and improvements to the Hood Canal Bridge, with some projects scheduled for completion as late as winter 2026.

In September, commissioners from both Clallam and Jefferson counties reached out to DOT with concerns about bridge closures.

While not yet scheduled, weekend closures of the Hood Canal Bridge will extend from 11 p.m. Friday to 4 a.m. Monday, the project website says, and crews will also require a series of night intermittent closures to all travelers.

In a September letter responding to Clallam County Commissioners, DOT Olympic Region Administrator Steve Roark said many of DOT’s projects are weather dependent and needed to be done in the summer months.

“These closures could avoid impacting the Discovery Marathon, although we will need to watch this closely,” Roark said. “These tentative closure dates could shift if the preparatory work takes longer than planned or if we encounter weather that impacts the schedule, so we cannot commit to exact dates for the weekend closures until the work gets underway.”

Traffic across the Hood Canal Bridge will have to be stopped for that entire time on four different weekends, and, according to DOT regional spokesperson Stefanie Randolph, the department is still working with the contractor to determine when those will be.

“We recognize that this bridge is a critical link,” Randolph said. “We really appreciate people making plans that don’t involve the Hood Canal Bridge that weekend.”

Randolph said DOT would communicate heavily before the closures and encouraged travelers to sign up for email alerts.

Port Angeles officials welcome the projects, West said, but they were concerned about road and lane closures that might impact the area, particularly in areas where there are no alternate routes.

West said the city is particularly concerned about closures on Highway 101 near Lees and Ennis Creeks, where DOT will reduce traffic down to one lane in both directions.

Clallam County Fire District 2 Commissioner Steve Hopf spoke at the meeting, expressing concerns about emergency vehicle access during the construction.

“Will (DOT) leave proper corridors so people can get out of the road so they can get through?” Hopf asked.

The Elwha River Bridge is being replaced, and although most of the construction will occur offsite, DOT said there will be closed and shifted lanes for the duration of the construction and the bridge will have to be closed for a full week near the end of the project. DOT currently has the bridge replacement scheduled for late winter 2023 to late winter 2025.

Closures of the Hood Canal Bridge are currently scheduled for late-night hours on the weekends as early as May 2023, but District 2 Commissioner Randy Johnson suggested asking DOT if weekday closures were possible to not hinder weekend traffic.

West said county and local officials should communicate with DOT and the state Legislature to ensure projects are completed on schedule, possibly by offering early completion incentives to contractors.

“We need to make sure these projects occur when they’re scheduled to occur,” West said. “We can’t afford more delays in that process.”

Starting in 2023, DOT is constructing roundabouts at the intersection of state Highways 104 and 19 near Beaver Valley Road and on Highway 20 at Kearney Street in Port Townsend.

Jefferson County Public Works Director Monte Reinders said the county has been working with DOT on detour routes, but more details are yet to come.

“I haven’t seen DOT’s traffic management plan, not sure they’ve completed that yet,” Reinders said.

The county has worked with DOT on alternate routes during construction, Reinders said, but there would inevitably be impacts to the flow of traffic.