The federal government shutdown is affecting local communities and could delay a huge project in Kenmore if it continues into next month.
Competing bills aimed at ending the record-breaking government closure both failed in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 24, which was day 34 of the shutdown. On Jan. 25, a deal was reached to temporarily reopen the government for three weeks.
The city sent a press release on Jan. 18 informing the community of potential impacts of the partial shutdown on the West Sammamish River Bridge replacement project.
“This bridge is the largest construction project in Kenmore’s history,” said Rob Karlinsey, city manager. “As we saw a few weeks ago when it was shut down for emergency utility repairs, this bridge has regional significance. There are so many permits, multiple agencies that must weigh in, and when one or two dominoes don’t fall, it holds up so many other processes.”
The city needs approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Park Service (NPS) before it can continue work on the bridge replacement, but both agencies were furloughed.
According to city engineer, John Vicente, 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.
The project is funded by the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Bridge Programs for $12 million, Transportation Improvement Board funding for $6.9 million, federal STP funds of $1.6M and the Connecting Washington State fund for $8 million. About $3 million in local Kenmore funds will also be used.
Due to the age of the bridge, weight restrictions went into effect in 2014 and the city began design for a new bridge in 2015. As the project moves from design to construction, the city expected to advertise the project this month and start construction in the spring.
Before Kenmore can advertise the project to select a construction contractor, the city must obtain final Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) approval, based on navigable water coordination with the NOAA.
The construction timeline is dependent on the annual fish window, as the bridge contractor can only do work in the water when salmon are less likely to be around. Because of the fish window, the city estimates that Feb. 11 is the latest date it can advertise for this project, maintain the schedule and start construction this year.
“If WSDOT does not receive final approval from NOAA by Feb. 11, the project will be delayed a year,” according to the city press release.
“I’m not hinging my bets on the shutdown opening,” Vicente said. “So, we’re working with WSDOT to see if there’s more wiggle room for the construction window.”
Another factor affected by the shutdown will be Kenmore’s ability to award the construction bids. Because the wider bridge will be over a small portion of the state’s boat launch property, the NPS needs to give final approval before the city can process the received bids and select the bridge contractor. The NPS will likely have a backlog of work waiting when the shutdown is lifted.
Kenmore must receive NPS approval by March 4, or the project will be delayed a year.
“If the project is delayed a year, higher costs could add millions of dollars to the project,” according to the city. “Mayor David Baker and Rob Karlinsey, city manager, have been in touch with Congresswoman [Suzan] DelBene and advised her of how the project is being impacted.”
“Delaying the project means labor and construction costs will just get higher and we are really trying to avoid that. We are a small city and can’t just absorb costs increases caused by a delay, “ Karlinsey said. “We are working closely with our elected representatives and lobbying multiple agencies so that once the shutdown is lifted, our project will hopefully be given priority.”