The city of Aberdeen took action on the Young Street Bridge project Wednesday evening, choosing an engineering firm to conduct a preliminary phase that includes public outreach, technical surveys, and analysis and selection of various options for bridge improvements.
The work currently under contract does not include the project’s final design, although the city council will have the option to amend the contract to add that task later.
The city council on Wednesday authorized $1.7 million to Portland and Olympia-based consultant David Evans and Associates (DEA), a design firm founded in 1976 whose areas of expertise include environmental restoration, hydroelectric systems, marine services and transportation.
According to the contract, the objective for DEA is to develop a “bridge solution” that could include one of three options: replace the existing bridge with a new bridge in the same location, rehabilitate the existing bridge to correct the existing deficiencies, or leave the existing bridge in place for bicycles and pedestrian use and build a new bridge in a different location.
Aberdeen Public Works Director Rick Sangder said the tasks of initial assessment and final design would ordinarily be lumped into the same phase, but the city decided to break up the process because of a high public interest in the project.
“We wanted to make sure we showed the community we were taking it seriously about the concerns about the bridge and doing our alternatives analysis,” Sangder said.
City Administrator Ruth Clemens, who sat on the city selection committee for the project, told the council Wednesday that her own evaluation process was driven by the applicants’ plans for community involvement.
“One of the engineering firms definitely had a more robust plan as far as public engagement went,” Clemens said. “I appreciated that it was throughout the project from beginning to end. They understood from the RFP (Request for Proposals) that public outreach was a very, very major part of the project.”
The future of the Young Street Bridge, technically called the North Aberdeen Bridge but also known as the “Kurt Cobain Bridge,” has drawn significant public interest and concern since the city announced last November it had received $23.1 million from the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Local Bridge Program for its full replacement. Local historians and musicians have advocated at public meetings and to city officials that the bridge’s legacy, as the former childhood hangout spot of Nirvana’s lead singer, should be preserved during the project, with some starting a movement called “Save Kurt’s Bridge.”
Cobain, who’s childhood home lies a few blocks from the bridge in north Aberdeen, opened his 1991 track “Something in the Way” by referencing the infrastructure with the lyrics “underneath the bridge.”
In the years since Cobain’s 1994 suicide, fans plastered the bridge’s underside with graffiti art and written messages to the legendary musician. In 2011 the city dedicated the adjacent small piece of land as the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park.
But the structural integrity of the 67-year old bridge, which carries traffic and pedestrians over the Wishkah River, has declined in recent years. Its low WSDOT sufficiency rating fell to 14 out of 100, which led the city to apply for funding to replace it.
At a meeting in March, city council members and public attendees floated a range of ideas about what memorializing the bridge could look like, from carefully dismantling and saving concrete pillars of art to leaving the bridge untouched and building an entirely new route over the Wishkah.
To gather input and ideas from the public, DEA will host a series of open houses, likely in the first or second quarter of 2024, according to Aberdeen City Engineer Nick Bird. Meanwhile, those ideas will be whittled down by a technical working group of city and DEA staff and brought back to future open houses for feedback.
Throughout the process, updates and information including surveys will be posted to a public website created by EnviroIssues, DEA’s subconsultant that specializes in community involvement efforts on large projects.
The consultants are also required to distribute project information via flyers, press releases and on social media.
DEA will ultimately produce the pre-design report, which will include sketches and digital renderings of what the final project will look like.
With $1.7 million already in contract, Bird said the city needs to have the remaining $21.4 million of grant funding obligated into contracts by Sept. 26 or will face a 13% upcharge in match funds to all phases started after that date.