The highway between Aberdeen and Olympia will see major construction projects that will affect traffic for an estimated two years beginning in 2023. Five separate projects, all to improve passage for spawning salmon, are planned, and all five could occur simultaneously at some periods.
Some will be on the scale of the bridge work over Wildcat Creek near McCleary that narrowed traffic to one lane in each direction for about two years, ending in 2018.
Construction is not set to begin until the summer of 2023.
Road construction phases may look something like the bridges built over the East Fork of Wildcat Creek near McCleary, or like the culvert replacement project on U.S. 12 west of Montesano, both wrapped up in late 2018. In each case, both directions of traffic were slowed and reduced to a single lane, then one direction diverted into the lost lane of travel as crews work on one side of the highway at a time.
“Two of these locations will be corrected with bridges,” said Project manager Bill Elliott. “The remaining three sites with concrete box culverts.” In all, Elliott said the projects will open up miles of potential upstream habitat for several fish species.
U.S. Highway 12 begins in Aberdeen and heads east with State Route 8 until they diverge at Elma when 12 turns onto the Elma-McCleary Road and SR 8 continues to the U.S. 101 intersection near Olympia. Construction sites on U.S. 12 will be west of the Monte Brady road intersection, east of the Keys Road intersection, and west of the Wakefield Road exit in Elma. Construction on SR 8 will take place west of the McKnight Road intersection and east of the SR 108 intersection in McCleary.
The bidding process has not yet begun and estimated costs for all five sites were not available.
“There will be work underway at multiple sites at the same time,” Elliott said. All in-stream work will occur during approved Department of Fish and Wildlife’s “Fish Windows” to minimize impacts to aquatic species. The timing of each site is undetermined. “That’s up to the contractor, but there will definitely be simultaneous work going on.”
The state has been working to remove outdated culverts under state highways for several years. Elliott explains that most of the culverts were installed decades before scientists fully understood the needs of fish. The construction met requirements for installation at the time, but newer science has shown how they hinder access to fish habitat for miles both upstream and downstream. In 2013, a federal court injunction required the state to speed up that process. Replacing the outdated culverts with bridges or fish passable structures increases the likelihood of salmon, bull trout and steelhead migration through the channels.
Approximately 2,027 culverts in Washington have been identified as barriers to fish passage on the statewide highway system. Of that total, about 1,505 have barriers that each hinder at least 200 meters of upstream habitat. As of 2020, WSDOT completed 352 fish passage projects statewide and improved access to about 1,170 miles of potential habitat upstream.
Planned Construction sites:
US Highway 12Milepost 12.36 – Camp Creek
Milepost 17.56 – Unnamed Tributary to Wenzel Slough
Milepost 19.17 – Unnamed Tributary to Vance Creek
State Route 8Milepost 3.16 – Unnamed Tributary to Wildcat Creek
Milepost 9.10 – Unnamed Tributary to Mox Chehalis Creek.