The West Sammamish River Bridge restoration project has been delayed a year as construction could not meet the annual fish window due to the federal government shutdown that lasted until January.
The record-breaking federal government shutdown was 35 days, running from Dec. 22, 2018 through Jan. 25, and officially delayed the bridge project as city of Kenmore staff and officials feared.
John Vicente, a city engineer, said he and his team were deeply disappointed by the delay.
“We had been working steadfast on this project for almost four years now, never taking a moment’s break,” he said. “We were so excited to be able to go to ad and to have to cancel it was extremely disappointing.”
The city had successfully gone to ad, or advertised the job for prospective contractors to bid on, but the process will now have to wait until fall. Specifically, the government shutdown delayed permit approval from the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Park Service (NPS), which were both furloughed and accumulated a backlog of requests.
“This bridge is a complicated project. There are so many state and federal permits and multiple agencies that must weigh in. When one or two dominoes don’t fall, it holds up so many other processes,” said city manager Rob Karlinsey. “If you ever wondered how a federal government shutdown could impact us at the local level, this is how.”
Vicente and his team began the bridge design process in 2015, one year after the city implemented weight restrictions due to the bridge’s age. Construction was set to begin this spring but missed the annual fish window requirements.
The fish window is an annual time-frame during which salmon are less likely to be in a certain area of the river. Work crews are only allowed to work in the water during this window.
The city had reached out to multiple representatives in an effort to get the NOAA and NPS to prioritize the time-sensitive permits.
“We do want to thank Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Suzan DelBene for advocating with multiple agencies to help keep us on schedule. Without our elected officials’ help, we would not have moved the needle as much on this project,” said Kenmore Mayor David Baker.
According to a city press release, prospective bidders were notified of the delay and new schedule. Currently, city staff expect construction to begin in the first quarter of 2020 and last up to three years.
Additionally, the city expects this delay to increase costs, as inflation goes up and impacts expectations, as delays often reflect unfavorably.
Vicente added that despite the delay, the bridge will still be just as safe to travel across. The bridge carries nearly 28,000 vehicles per day over the Sammamish River on 68th Avenue Northeast and was constructed in the 1930s. The project will replace the existing west bridge (southbound travel lanes) with a new structure.
“We don’t have any immediate concerns that the bridge is no less safe today than it was yesterday,” Vicente said. “The city strived really hard to get this project out to ad and to have construction start in the fall. We had excellent participation and help from our federal delegations, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough.”