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$28.7 million invested to sustain vital economic corridor in Granite Falls

GRANITE FALLS, Wash., April 16, 2022 – To the sounds of passing cargo trucks and the flowing South Fork Stillaguamish River, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) was joined by county and local leaders to celebrate funding awarded to replace the Granite Falls Bridge 102. The $28.7 million project, when complete in 2026, is expected to generate a $1.36 billion (net present value) in societal benefits over the next 20 years – 185 million travel hours saved by avoiding the 94-mile alternative route and a reduction in traffic fatalities.

“We tried eight times to get funding for this project but the last time we were successful,” Kelly Snyder, Director of Snohomish County Public Works, ecstatically shared with attendees during opening remarks.

granite Falls bridge
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) with Kelly Snyder, Director of Snohomish County Public Works.

After eight years of effort by employees of the Snohomish County Public Works and various federal partners, Washington state was granted a $22.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program to replace the 88-year-old Granite Falls Bridge 102.

“As you can tell, seeing the traffic going by while we are here you can tell how critical of a connection this bridge is,” Rep. DelBene said during Friday’s outdoor presser in scenic Granite Falls.

Rep. DelBene thanked Pete Buttigieg, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, for approving the project and the tenacious efforts of Snohomish County Public Works and community partners for supporting the project. Because of the new infrastructure law that passed, RAISE grants may be a new vehicle to address of aging roadways, Rep. DelBene shared.

“Over the next five years, we are going to invest at least $605 million in bridges across the state. This current fiscal year alone, Washington state is going to get $121 million to help work on our bridges,” Rep. DelBene said.

susan delbene
Pictured are some of the attendees at Friday’s outdoor presser near Granite Falls Bridge 102. (L-R) Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring, Snohomish County Council Executive Dave Somers, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Director of Snohomish County Public Works Kelly Snyder, Deb Bell Senior Analyst for the Snohomish County Council, Snohomish County Councilman Sam Low, and Doug McCormick Snohomish County Public Works Deputy Director and County Engineer.

RAISE is a federal program dedicated to investing in critical road, rail, transit, and port projects across the United States. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was passed by the House and signed into law this month, increased funding for the grant program to a total of $7.5 billion.

This is the largest RAISE grant award in Washington state and one of the largest in the country for 2021. The Snohomish County Road Fund will provide the additional $6.6 million needed for the project. Because it is not yet structurally deficient to qualify for the Federal Local Bridge program, no state funds were allocated to replace the aging bridge.

“Congresswoman DelBene thank you so much for all your efforts on this project and others in the community,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said to Rep. DelBene. “It is really a lifeline to a big part of our county. So, thank you so much.”

Representative DelBene has been supportive of the project since the early grant requesting phase and continued to advocate for the project in congress. Below is an excerpt from her latest request to Pete Buttigieg, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, advocating support of the project’s application to the USDOT RAISE Discretionary Grant program by the Snohomish County Public Works Department.

“Although this project was ultimately not selected by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to include in the INVEST in America Act, I believe this project is critical to Washington’s 1st Congressional District, which is why I was pleased to submit it for consideration as a Member Designated Project request,” wrote Rep. DelBene on June 29, 2021.

Below is a list of community and federal partners who also sent letters of support for the Granite Falls Bridge 102 replacement project over the years:

  • Patty Murry, U.S. Senator, Washington state, July 12, 2021
  • Maria Cantwell, U.S. Senator, Washington state, July 15, 2021
  • Jody L. Weil, Forest Supervisor, U.S. Department of Agriculture, June 24, 2021
  • Roger Millar, Secretary of Transportation, Washington state, June 24, 2021
  • Kelly McGourty, Director of Transportation Planning, Puget Sound Regional Council, April 20, 2021
  • Mathew Hartman, Mayor, City of Granite Falls, April 5, 2021
  • Barbara Tolbert, Mayor, City of Arlington, May 25, 2021
  • Dan Rankin, Mayor, Town of Darrington, July 12, 2021
  • Garry Clark, President & CEO, Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, June 9, 2021
  • Lisa Lefeber, Acting CEO/Executive Director, Port of Everett, July 12, 2018
  • Jim Haverfield, Fire Chief, Snohomish County Fire District #17
  • Fred Cruger, Treasurer, Granite Falls Historical Society (GFHS), June 28, 2019
  • Delana Reeves, Transportation Supervisor, Lake Stevens/Granite Falls Co-op, June 7, 2021
  • Adam Fortney, Sheriff, Snohomish County, June 14, 2021

County Councilman Nate Nehring stressed the long-term benefits of the project to future generations.

“It is exciting that we can be very confident that we did what was needed to make this area safe to access… This is a reminder of what we can do when we work together and continue to push as a team,” Councilman Nehring said. “There is more work to do around the mountain loop to improve the corridor for generations to come and this is great positive step forward in that effort.”

The project is now in its planning stages for the construction of the new bridge, that will be located adjacent to the existing Granite Falls Bridge 102, along the Mountain Loop Highway about 1.5 miles north of downtown Granite Falls in Snohomish County. All necessary right-of-way agreements have been recorded.

Granite Falls bridge location
Map of project location. Source: Snohomish County Public Works.

This bridge is not only a primary access roadway connecting the communities of Granite Falls, Verlot, Robe Valley, and Silverton, it also provides a vital economic corridor for sand and gravel quarries, and logging operations across Washington state. It is the “Last Mile” connection between the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBSNF) to freight corridors State Route 92 and State Route 9 – both on the National Highway System (NHS) – providing an estimated $86.4 million per year in building material for the major metropolitan areas.

“During the last hour, you can see for yourself how many trucks use this route,” Sam Low, Snohomish County Councilman and Chair of the Snohomish County Public Works Committee told the Lynnwood Times at the press conference. “I appreciate our Snohomish County Public Works employees continuing going to bat over the last several years to get the funding needed for us to get this project done. This was a great partnership between our county and our federal partners for Granite Falls.”

Low is also the Chair of the Washington state Transportation Improvement Benefit Board and currently a commissioner with the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission.

Granite Falls Bridge 102 is part of the 52-mile Mountain Loop Scenic Byway between Granite Falls and Darrington that many residents and tourists enjoy when on hikes, camping, and other outdoor recreational activities.

Other invitees attending Friday’s outdoor presser included County Council Chair Megan Dunn, Snohomish County Executive Director Ken Klein, Granite Falls Councilman Steven Glenn, and Granite Falls City Manager Brent Kirk.

Why is a new Granite Falls Bridge needed?

In its current state, the 336-foot bridge is considered functionally obsolete. If the bridge were to fail or close, the detour route is a 94-mile distance and would significantly impair emergency services.

The bridge was constructed in 1934 when vehicles were narrower, so the 20-foot-wide bridge deck (approximately 28 feet in total bridge-width) does not provide enough room for two large vehicles to pass safely in opposing directions.

Granite Falls bridge safety risk
image of opposing traffic of large vehicles on Granite Falls Bridge 102. Source: Snohomish County Public Works.

The increasing load weights (up to three-and-a-half times its original design load limit of 15 tons) and traffic volumes that the bridge has repeatedly carried over time are significant concerns.

The bridge is on a T-2 freight corridor moving 4-10 million tons of natural resources per year on approximately 750 heavy duty trucks per day. Although the amount of traffic on the bridge varies during the week and by season, personal and service traffic peaks to more than 6,800 vehicles per day during the summer months.

Granite Falls bridge
Picture of current Granite Falls Bridge 102. Source: Snohomish County Public Works.

The bridge’s main span is a “riveted, steel deck, trussed-arch” built 92 feet above the river’s mean water level. Due to its truss-type design, the bridge is considered fracture critical. Fracture critical indicates that a failure of certain structural members could result in a bridge failure – not good in a region known for seismic activity. If cracks are found in any of these key structural members, a total road closure would be required.

Based on data provided by Snohomish County Search and Rescue (SAR), calls on the Mountain Loop Highway, which the bridge accesses, account for nearly 20% of all SAR calls in the County. Closure or failure of the bridge would essentially land-lock these missions if they occur during the winter months when Barlow Pass is closed.

Granite Falls bridge detour
Map of detour if bridge fails. Source: Snohomish County Public Works.

According to county documents, the concrete deck of the existing bridge has a high salt content and is nearing the end of its useful life and will need to be completely replaced within the next ten years. Replacing the functionally obsolete bridge now will reduce future maintenance costs for the county.

Now that funding has become available, the additional environmental review can proceed. The initial review determined no significant environmental impacts are anticipated from the construction of the new bridge.

Preliminary design of the proposed Granite Falls Bridge

The proposed 351-foot-long and approximate 48-foot-wide replacement bridge, located just west of the current Granite Falls Bridge 102, will feature sidewalks and bike lanes – keeping to Washington state’s commitment to multi-modal transportation systems. This is to include two 12-foot-wide travel lanes for vehicles – a 20% increase.

Granite Falls bridge
Source: Snohomish County Public Works, 2021USDOT RAISE Grant Application.

Situated approximately 90 feet above the South Fork Stillaguamish River, the two-span steel plate girder bridge of   span lengths 88 feet and 263 feet resting on three piers, will accommodate the horizontal curvature of the roadway using straight girders. Utilities will be installed below the bridge deck between the girders.

Granite Falls bridge
Two-Span Bridge; Steel Plate Girder. Source: Snohomish County Public Works, 2021 USDOT RAISE Grant Application.

The long‐term maintenance of the new bridge is expected to be minimal. The steel members of the new bridge would be metalized – a thermal spray coating that aids in corrosion protection – prior to painting. This combination is expected to yield a 75-year lifecycle that will outlive the design life of the structure.

The current bridge will remain in place to provide for traffic corridor needs throughout the new construction as the 94-mile detour is not practical. Construction is expected to begin spring of 2025 and upon its completion in 2026, its predecessor is proposed to be demolished.

Granite Falls bridge aerial view
Aerial view of the new bridge built adjacent to the existing Bridge 102. Source Illustration: Granite Falls Historical Society, Fred Cruger.

County engineers told the Lynnwood Times that they will develop an environmentally friendly removal plan to minimize impacts to the river and surrounding landscape.

Removal of the existing bridge is estimated at $1.57 million and would consist of removing the concrete deck, disassembling the steel components, demolishing the concrete deck and steel girders, and remove the piers.

Although there are plans to demolish the current bridge, the Granite Falls Historical Society is currently prospecting opportunities to preserve it through a partnership involving city, county, and state agencies.

Proposed Schedule Milestones

The major project milestones are listed in the table below:

Granite Falls bridge milestones
Source: Snohomish County Public Works, 2021 USDOT RAISE Grant Application.

Pictures from the Tour

View from under the bridge. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.
Walking the trail with Larry, Public Works Engineer. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.
Snohomish County Chair Megan Dunn with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01). Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.
Snohomish County Chair Megan Dunn and County Executive Dave Somers speaking with Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (center) during the bridge tour on Friday, April 15, 2022. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.
View from top of cliff near the bridge. Lynnwood Times | Mario Lotmore.

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