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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Upgrades Planned for the Tualco Valley Speedway…

Bridge 155As Gladys and I approached Riley Slough Bridge # 155 a couple mornings ago, I remembered a conversation I’d had with Kevin Olson at Fred Meyer’s the other day. After we exchanged a few routine pleasantries, Kevin blurted out the question: “Say, do you know where the County Sheriff’s office is located?” I didn’t. Such a strange question…right out of the blue. Kevin told me the office had moved to some other location. On these hot days, Kevin told me, kids are swimming at High Bridge and when they return, some do so at a high rate of speed, racing even, on the straight stretch approaching the bridge.R.S. Bridge approach N Kevin lives on the northwest side of Bridge 155 and cars speeding across the bridge and past his doorstep puts his safety in jeopardy. He told me during one trip to the mail box his wife had to scramble out of the way of one of the racing vehicles, no easy thing to do since she’s nursing a sore knee. Kevin thought he’d drop by the sheriff’s office, let them know about the problem to urge law enforcement to do a little extra patrolling out in the Valley. I shared with him my incident on the Lower Loop bridge when a birder and I had to hug the rail to avoid being struck by a vehicle driven by a young male. He and his passenger breezed by us at fifty mph plus as if we weren’t even there. Yes: The Tualco Valley Speedway (TVS) where the posted thirty-five mph speed limit is not just a suggestion; it’s a joke…as is the fact there’s little or no enforcement of it.

That’s not likely to change. In fact it appears the County is trending more towards making the TVS less a Le Mans type course—one with fewer turns--and more an oval track configuration. “Want to hear a good story?” Kevin asked.  I nodded because there’s nothing The Ripple likes better than a good story. Kevin moved a step closer and shared some news that in the telling set his handlebar mustache a’ quiver.

Sometime in April Kevin noticed a couple County workers milling around Bridge 155. They were toting official-looking clipboards (Kevin didn’t say, but aren’t they always?). Now a government official carrying a clipboard can mean only one thing: change is in the wind. (I remember a few years back when I spied a couple clipboard toting WASDOT workers defacing our driveway with day-glo pink arrows, precursor to a turn lane project that disrupted our lives for six months). Kevin out went to investigate, to see which way the wind was about to blow, so to speak. “The County is going to replace the bridge,” Kevin exclaimed, “They plan to straighten out the blind corner and make the bridge approach a straight shot. You know what that means, don’t you? (I could see the static electricity building in that moustache.) I had hardly come to terms with Kevin’s news when he continued, “They’ll have to take the house and the outbuildings. That’s the only way they could do it!” I had to agree: the jog elbows east. To eliminate the curve, the County would have construct its replacement on the west side of the current bridge. I asked Kevin if the County would purchase the property at fair market value or impose imminent domain. Kevin didn’t know and said the County had yet to contact his landlord.

Kevin has lived in that rustic little cottage through three landlord changes. He survived the flood of 1990 when the slough lapped at his doorstep. In other words he has a history with the property and a new bridge would certainly rearrange his life for him. According to the County engineers the average daily traffic that crosses the bridge is 700 vehicles, a statistic that Kevin finds incredulous. As do I; the Frohnings don’t go for coffee that often. And even with me jumping up and down on that rubber snake across the road to make the little black box clickety–click wouldn’t account for much of an increase. During the ten minutes’ time it took me to take the attached photos only three vehicles crossed the bridge, one of them a farm ATV. “They’re going to spend 4.2 million of our dollars just to accommodate farm equipment and dairy cows?” By this time that moustache was sparking. “If seven hundred vehicles cross that bridge every day…well, they can…they can just…,” he spluttered and went on to suggest the County engineers do something I’m sure isn’t written in their job description. “And besides, the Slough is salmon habitat. What about that?”salmon habitat We both wondered how the County could have sidestepped that issue. I left Kevin fuming somewhere between the bananas and soft fruit sections and finished my shopping.

The Ripple decided to look into the County’s bold plans for Bridge 155. I found the entire project overview on line and will share some of the highlights from the twenty-nine pages of project application (search “Riley Slough Bridge Project” for specifics of the entire project). Timeline: preliminary study 4/’15 (Kevin’s County clipboard personnel); right-of way work starts 7/’16; bridge construction proper begins 8/’18; new bridge opens to traffic 11/’19. The replacement bridge will be a “3-span concrete girder structure on driven piles” (and all this in salmon habitat, mind). The length will stay at 200’ but an additional two feet will be added to the width (28’ to 30’). According to the overview the total cost of the project is 4.4 million, a figure that will no doubt budge taxpayers’ property taxes (and, fellow citizens, don’t forget you’ll soon be funding a new County Courthouse). The County expects bridge crossings to double in the future, from an average of 528 vehicles per day (10 % truck traffic) to over a 1,000. Where those projections come from, I have no idea. Given the jog in the bridge approach thus a blind corner, one might think safety could be a factor in replacing the bridge; however, according to the project stats there has been only one “collision” in the vicinity of the bridge since 2007. The solitary incident happened in  March 30, 2010…and 240’ south of the bridge. A vehicle struck a “tree or stump.” In broad daylight, too. No injuries reported.Bridge 155 S. approach

Consider the TVS for a moment. If the kink in the road is straightened, Valley racers will have an extra quarter mile north of the bridge added to the straight stretch that begins at the intersection of the Upper and Lower Loop roads…a full half mile to “see what this baby’ll do.” County engineers cite their reason for adding an additional two feet to the bridge width as a consideration for “pedestrian safety.” In all the years Gladys and I have pedaled across Bridge 155 we have yet to see a single pedestrian hoofing his way across. However, if you unkink it, maybe they will come…from far and wide…to watch the races.R.S. Bridge approach N

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. 700? That doesn't sound right at all to me either. Did they even put up one of those car counting strippy things? I don't remember seeing one around there since I moved to the valley.

  3. I believe the counter strip was placed south of 203rd so it took into account all the traffic that actually turned at the Honor Farm to get to SR 203 and didn't continue on to Tualco Road.

  4. That would explain the County's inflated average daily traffic numbers for the High Bridge/SR 203 route. If that's the case, however, it fails to explain why the County plans to replace a bridge whose traffic would not reflect those numbers....But then that would involve some commonsense, wouldn't it? Thanks, Ginger, for your input. TMJ