Friday, October 16, 2015

Weitas Creek Bridge across the North Fork of the Clearwater River re-opens

The historic Weitas Creek Bridge, closed in 2009 has been re-opened. The bridge was placed across the North Fork of the Clearwater River in the late 1930s as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. 

The impromptu ribbon cutting ceremony and signing of the order to open the bridge occurred on September 28 during a field tour for Forest and Regional recreational program staff. 

In addition to Forest staff, Alex and Julia Irby were at the bridge site for the ceremony. Alex and Julia have a long history of enjoying recreational opportunities along the beautiful North Fork River; Alex is currently co-chair of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC) Recreation Sub-Committee and a founding member of the Public Lands Access Year round (PLAY) group.

Don Ebert, Clearwater County Commissioner extended his regrets for not being able to attend the ceremony. However, he let Forest staff know how much he appreciated the invitation and the fact that the bridge had been restored to a serviceable condition.

He noted that his appreciation was not only personal but that of the county government and the people of the area. He thanked all of those folks that had a part in the success.

Clearwater County and surrounding communities will benefit from reopening the bridge as it restores access to the Weitas Creek Campground. Access is also restored to recreational opportunities that have not been available in recent years including access to the lower Weitas Creek for OHVs, motorcycles, stock users, outfitters, fisherman, and hikers; and access to an approximate 100-mile looped single track motorcycle route. 

The bridge was closed six years ago due to public safety concerns. The original estimate to repair the bridge was approximately two million dollars; a price tag the Forest just couldn’t afford. Over the years, Forest staff along with community partners explored alternative funding sources while Forest engineer, Travis Mechling, explored ways to lower the cost of needed repairs. 

In January of 2013 the Forest completed a preliminary engineering analysis on how to best repair the bridge and refine the repair estimate provided by the earlier study. From this study, it appeared that repairing the bridge was an economically feasible option.

This more economical proposal included completing a fracture critical inspection and a subsurface scour investigation to determine scour potential. As part of the proposal, inspections of all steel tension members and connecting pins to insure soundness were completed, and no unforeseen concerns with the steel superstructure were found. This left only the two primary safety concerns regarding the bridge pier caps and footings to repair. 

In 2014, the North Central Idaho Resource Advisory Council (RAC) approved $195,000 of Title II funds to complete the less expensive repair. With these funds, the Forest contracted Engleman Steel Erection from Boise to repair the bridge.

To complete repairs, the bridge was lifted off the pier caps so new concrete pier caps could be cast in-place then the bridge lowered back down onto the new caps; other repairs included removing and patching deteriorated concrete, and placing rip rap around the pier footings to mitigate for possible scour during high flows.

Cheryl Probert, Forest Supervisor, signs the order to open the bridge after the repairs. Also in attendance are Alex Irby (left), CBC Recreation Sub Committee Co-Chair, and Andrew Skowland (right), District Ranger on the North Fork Ranger District. Photo by George Bain, Regional Office Recreation Program Director.

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