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Residents tackle fate of Mount Si Bridge

NORTH BEND - One thing everyone can agree on is Mount Si Bridge is old.

What to do about the bridge, which spans the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, is another thing entirely. Should the 97-year-old structure be demolished and replaced? Should it be replaced but left intact, to be used elsewhere as a pedestrian or equestrian bridge?

Should the bridge - erected across the Middle Fork in 1955 - stay at its current location while the county builds a second bridge farther upriver? Should an outside group buy it and maintain it?

At a meeting Tuesday, July 17, at Mount Si High School, Linda Dougherty, manager of King County's Road Services Division, said her department, through the Mount Si Bridge Replacement Project, faces a challenge in creating a solution on which everyone will agree.

"The bridge means many things to many people," she said.

An engineering firm, Andersen, Bjornstad, Kane, Jacobs (ABKJ) of Seattle, has created six alternative alignments for a new bridge. Four of the alternatives would cross the Middle Fork at or near the current bridge location. Two alternatives would construct a new bridge upstream - one near 436th Avenue Southeast, and another near Southeast Tanner Road.

County officials contend a new bridge is needed because the current structure is too expensive to maintain. Brian Sperry, a civil project engineer with ABKJ, said Mount Si Bridge fails to meet current load requirements and it's unsafe for pedestrians to cross because it lacks shoulders.

He also said the northern approach of Mount Si Road to the bridge has a sight distance of 200 feet, while county regulations for the same type of road demand a sight distance of 400 feet.

Under the alternative alignments, the county would build a new bridge while improving the road approaches to it. The estimated cost of replacing the bridge varies from more than $6 million to $12 million, depending on the alternative.

In selecting the location and design of the new bridge, the county is trying meet the needs of an increasing population, as well as the state Department of Natural Resources' plan to build a larger parking lot for the Little Si trailhead farther up Southeast Mount Si Road, about 1,000 feet past the bridge. About 3,540 vehicles cross the bridge every day, but that number is expected increase in the coming years.

County officials won't finalize the bridge's design until an alignment is chosen, however, the new structure would have two 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders, like the recently replaced Raging River Bridge in Fall City and the Novelty Bridge in Duvall.

Money from the federal government will offset 65 percent of the cost of a new bridge, but in doing so, the old bridge will be taken out of the county's inventory.

In its report on the different alignment proposals, ABKJ recommended Alternative 4A. That plan would place a new bridge just west of the current span, as well as move the southern approach to bridge to the west. Of the alignment alternatives, it carried the smallest price tag, $6.47 million.

Removing the bridge is a thorny issue for many North Bend residents. Some feel a new bridge - with 12-foot lanes and 8-foot shoulders N is overkill, while others would like to see a new bridge built at a different spot and keep the old bridge for pedestrian use, as well as an emergency route for King County Fire Protection District 38, which services the area.

"We're not proposing that it be used as a thoroughfare, but as a backup," said District 38 Commissioner Ron Pedee.

Dave Battey of Snoqualmie said he would like to see the old bridge kept for its historical value, adding, "This is basically the oldest still-working bridge in King County."

Mount Si Bridge is a registered King County Landmark and is eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places for its design and construction.

The county has tried in the past to save historic bridges. In replacing the Whitney Bridge over the Green River, the Road Services Division gave the old bridge to the Park System, but since then it has sat on Park System property, awaiting a place to put it. County officials are open to an organization buying Mount Si Bridge, but the organization would be responsible for the bridge's upkeep.

"My hope is that we can find someone, some agency, to take over responsibility for this bridge," Battey said.

Others suggested the county adopt Alternative 1, which would place a bridge across the Middle Fork near 436th Avenue Southeast, because of its easy access to Interstate 90. That would, they said, make it more convenient for travelers, as well as keep weekend traffic out of downtown North Bend.

"Alternative No. 1 is the best long-term solution for the needs of this Valley," said Ewing Stringfellow. "You have to build a road to meet these two types of needs N local commuters versus weekend traffic."

Anne Herman of North Bend said maybe the county shouldn't be too quick to make the area more convenient to visiting outdoor enthusiasts.

"If you go hiking for convenience and safety, we might as well put an elevator to the top of Mount Si," she said.

Art Skolnik of Snoqualmie believes county officials were too quick in deciding Mount Si Bridge needed to be replaced. He said if they were willing to restrict Meadowbrook Bridge in Snoqualmie to one-way traffic governed by a signal, they should be able to think of more alternatives for its North Bend cousin. He thinks for the same amount of money it would take to build a new bridge, King County could repair Mount Si Bridge and construct a second bridge next to it for pedestrian and truck use.

"I think there's a hybrid here that hasn't been looked at," he said.

The county will select an alignment alternative by this time next year. Construction of a new bridge is expected to begin until 2006, with the bridge's completion coming the following year.

"This process is a big project for King County, and especially for your community," Dougherty said.

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