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Story Last modified at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nobody wants to buy this bridge
State to remove, replace scenic Peters Creek span

BY RINDI WHITE
For the Star

photo:News

The bridge over Peters Creek, thought to be one of the oldest in the area, was installed in 1950. It is being replaced with a newer, wider bridge this summer.
Photo courtesy Larry Mishkar

A weighty piece of history will disappear from Peters Creek this summer.

The state plans to replace the 61-year-old Old Glenn Highway bridge that crosses a picturesque section of creek.

Road closures were set to begin this week between Lace Drive and the Peters Creek Community Park to remove the bridge. State Department of Transportation officials said the closure was delayed until approximately May 10, however, and will extend through July 24.

DOT project engineer Ted Meyer said contractor Granite Construction planned to move a crane to the area but was delayed due to load restrictions on area roads right now.

The construction company planned to have the crane in place before load restrictions went into effect but lacked a gated and locked facility at the site to store it until work began, Meyer said. He said DOT told the company the only way it would grant a permit to move the weighty piece of equipment to the construction site now was if the company, at its cost, would pay to repave the road.

Meyer said the road closure schedule might change if load restrictions are lifted earlier or later than May 10. The project is expected to finish within 75 days of the closure.

Peters Creek Park and the pedestrian bridge over Peters Creek will remain open throughout the summer.

DOT project manager Alan Drake said the state usually tries to build a detour bridge to keep traffic flowing.

"The way this one is situated, it would be pretty difficult – almost impossible – to do," Drake said.

The bridge is being replaced as part of the $12.7 million Old Glenn Highway reconstruction project, which adds pedestrian paths and shoulders, widens and repaves parts of the old road that was once the primary connection between Anchorage and outlying communities such as Chugiak, Eagle River and the Mat-Su Borough.

Bridge of two generations

DOT engineer Jim Amundsen said the bridge that's now there, called a Warren Pony Truss bridge, was installed in 1950 when the Alaska Territorial road system was upgraded and paved.

Before that bridge went in, Amundsen said a timber bridge and gravel road provided access between Anchorage and Peters Creek and the Valley.

The bridge itself isn't spectacular – Amundsen called it a "standard cookie-cutter bridge for the time" – but the 100-foot span over Peters Creek is picturesque.

Tina Kahler, who has lived in the area for seven years, said she made sure to get the bridge in the backdrop when she took wedding photographs for friends who were married in the nearby park.

"To me it's history," Kahler said.

She said she was sad to hear the bridge was being removed and wanted to know a little more about it.

"I think it's sad because I come from an area where buildings were dilapidated" but because Jack London lived and wrote there, in addition to plying the local waters for fish, the buildings are preserved, she said.

A historic review of the bridge shows DOT officials tried to preserve it but could find no takers who were willing to move it and maintain it. Officials from the department met with Municipality of Anchorage Parks and Recreation representatives and with the Chugiak Birchwood Eagle River Rural Road Service Area to see if either entity could use the bridge. They also met with Eklutna Inc. and advertised in newspapers to see if anyone wanted to buy it.

"The expected high cost for disassembling, transporting, reassembling and maintaining the structure appeared to end the inquiry," stated Brian Elliot, DOT regional environmental manager, in a 2009 historic evaluation form.

Amundsen said leaving the bridge in place wasn't a good solution either. It's reached the end of its useful life, he said.

The 2009 historic evaluation says the old bridge is considered "structurally deficient and fracture critical." Leaving it in place "would not allow the bridge to function as an integral part of a modern transportation system," according to the review.

So where do bridges go when they retire? Amundsen said it would become the property of the contractor, Granite Construction. It will most likely be taken apart and sent to a smelter in the Lower 48 where the lead paint will be removed and it'll likely be melted down and reused, he said.

While this bridge served the community for 61 years, Amundsen said the state hopes its replacement, a 136-foot bridge, will be useful for 100 years.

Work on the bridge is delayed until breakup passes but construction on the rest of the road project will continue on schedule, Meyer said.

Work between South Birchwood Loop Road and Peters Creek will begin May 2. While no closures are expected on that project, drivers can expect one-lane traffic, flaggers and, at some places, pilot cars. Crews are expected to start paving in July.

Meyer said to get updated project information e-mail him at ted.meyer@alaska.gov.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, April 28, 2011.