Friday, May 01, 2015

Q: When's The Cordova Road To Child's Glacier/ Million Dollar Bridge Going To Be Ready? A: It's Not.

Alaska DOT Photo
We had taken the road at the end of July 2011.  The road was closed in August 2011.   On November 23, 2011, I published this post:  Road to Child's Glacier and Million Dollar Bridge Closed Until after 2015.    I recently realized, hey, it's 2015.  I should check on whether the road was ready yet. 

So I emailed the Department of Transportation and got this quick reply:
"Hi Steve,
The bridge is still standing, but the approach to the bridge washed out with the shifting of the Copper River.

There is no plan at this time to rebuild the bridge, we just don't have the construction dollars available.

Please let me know if you have additional questions, or need more information.

Details on the bridge are available here:

Meadow Bailey"   (emphasis added)

The link takes you to this undated (Meadow emailed again and said it was 'this winter' so after the March 2014 link below)  announcement:

Copper River Highway Copper Delta Bridge #339

There has been a recent decision to close the project due to the lack of funding for design or construction.
The 56-mile Copper River Highway begins in Cordova and ends at the Million Dollar Bridge. The road provides access to vast areas of the Copper River Valley, is used frequently by hunters and recreationists, and potentially supports proposed resource development.
Bridge No. 339 is one of 11 bridges crossing the Copper River Delta. The bridge was constructed in 1977. The hydraulic design of the existing bridge was based upon a predicted flood event of 21,300 cubic feet per second (159,300 gallons per second).
Naturally occurring changes in flow between river channels across the delta led to a dramatic increase in the amount of water flowing under Bridge No. 339. This increase in flow was first noticed in 2009. In 2010 ADOT&PF along with the U.S. Geological Survey began a comprehensive monitoring program at the site. During the summer of 2011 the flow was measured at 89,000 cubic feet per second (665,800 gallons per second).
Early in 2011 a project was created to investigate ways to reduce flows and preserve the bridge. However, field measurements revealed that the increased flow has scoured away 50 feet of the river bed under the bridge. The scour has compromised the vertical and lateral structural capacity of the bridge piers and abutments. These conditions constitute structural failure of the bridge, requiring that it be closed.
Did you read carefully?  The bridge was built in 1977 "based upon a predicted flood event of 21,300 cubic feet per second (159,300 gallons per second)."  You can compare that to how many gallons per second go into your car at the gas station.

However, in 2011, the water flow (presumably a regular event, not a flood event) was 89,000 cubic feet per second (665,800 gallons per second)."   That's almost five times greater.   

And this DOT page has links to other updates, including a three page pdf in March 2014 that says, among other things:

  • "There are two different bridge options
    • Option #1
      Decked Bulb-Tee Girders on Drilled Shaft Piers.
      Estimated construction cost: $66,250,000
    •  Option #2
      Box Girders on Pipe Pile Extension Piers.
      Estimated construction cost:  $50,700,000"
  • "During the winter the road beyond milepost 16 is not maintained and is closed to vehicle traffic (typically November thru mid April).  The 2010 summer Average Daily Traffic Volume (ADT) at Bridge 339 was 65."  So, if we count summer as mid April to November 1
That means, say if summer is from April 15 to October 31, we'd have 168 days times 65 cars or a total of about 10,000 cars, which would mean, for one summer, each car crossing the bridge would be, using the cheaper bridge, about $5000.  And over 30 years - the life of the original bridge - at the same rate, the toll for each car would reduce to about $160 per vehicle.  (And this doesn't consider maintenance and repairs.)  Of course, other roads and bridges in Alaska aren't calculated this way.  It might be interesting if they were.  Say, how much would that road from Juneau to the mine they want to build cost per vehicle over 30 years? 

But there's more:
  • "Since the bridge was closed in August of 2011, the river has continued to migrate east, washing out an additional 1,000 feet of the Copper River Highway.  Erosion is now threatening Bridge No. 340 located 1,100 feet east of Bridge No. 339."  

In any case, anyone  who knows about the price of oil and the state of the Alaska budget knows neither of these options is going to happen any time soon.

If you want to get out to the Million Dollar bridge or to Child's Glacier, which in 2011 had a beautiful campground, you're going to have to go by boat or float plane.  

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