Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Road to Child's Glacier and Million Dollar Bridge Closed Until after 2015

[UPDATE May 1, 2015:  Here's an update on the road. 
Q: When's The Cordova Road To Child's Glacier/ Million Dollar Bridge Going To Be Ready? A: It's Not]

We spent two days at Child's Glacier in July when we went to Cordova for Joe and Martha's wedding.  The campground host told me that there were problems with one of the bridges
Alaska Dept of Transportation photo
and it could be closed down any time.  So I took pictures of the bridge as we crossed over it on the way back.  At least I'm pretty sure this is the right bridge, but clearly the water level when we passed it was much different from in the DOT aerial photo below.

In any case, you can't go to Child's Glacier or the Million Dollar bridge any more by car.  The bridge was closed August 20 and today I got a press release from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities saying if everything goes well, the might begin construction in 2015.  That means no campers will be using that great new campground at Child's Glacier for at least another five years.

River very near to Copper River Highway
Or maybe the intrepid entrepreneurs of Cordova will find ways to boat and fly people out there and just permanently park campers in the campground for several years until the bridge is finished.  But I have to say, the road itself seemed threatened by high waters for a good part of the way too.  I was standing on the edge of the highway when I took the picture on the left. 

DOT&PF Extends Copper River Highway Closure
Bridge at mile 36.5 must be replaced before road can reopen.

(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) — The Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT&PF) has indefinitely closed the Copper River Highway at mile 36 due to safety concerns at Bridge No. 339. The closure will last until the bridge is replaced.

I'm pretty sure this is Bridge 339

The 56-mile Copper River Highway is located near Cordova and ends at the Million Dollar Bridge. The road, frequented by hunters and recreationists, leads to vast areas of proposed resource development.

Bridge No. 339 is one of 11 bridges crossing the Copper River Delta. Naturally occurring changes to the flow of water between channels across the delta led to a dramatic increase in the amount of water running under the bridge. Due to the increased amount of water, 50 ft of “scour”, or erosion, was observed at the bridge in 2011. The scour resulted in a lowering of the channel bottom that compromised the structure of the bridge and necessitated the closure. 
Bridge No. 339 was constructed in 1977. Based upon the channel configurations at that time, bridge designers estimated that water under the bridge would flow at 18,500 cubic
feet per second (cfs). During the summer of 2011, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologists measured the water flow to exceed 85,000 cfs.  Channel and flow distribution changes are a natural part of deltaic river systems. The adverse effects of these changes on Bridge No. 339 was first noted in 2009, when the bridge began receiving a greater portion of the total Copper River flow than its neighboring bridges. In 2010, ADOT&PF and the USGS began a comprehensive monitoring program at the bridge that included frequent on-site inspections and the use of bridge sensors that enabled remote observation of the bridge.
ADOT&PF received funding this fall to start the design phase of a replacement bridge; the design phase will progress through 2013 with agency permitting in 2014. Pending the availability of construction funds, the construction project could begin as early as 2015.
ADOT&PF oversees 254 airports, 11 ferries serving 33 communities, 5,700 miles of highway and 660 public facilities throughout the state of Alaska. The mission of ADOT&PF is to “Get Alaska Moving through service and infrastructure.”

Attached photo [aerial photo top of post]: Bridge No. 339, located at mile 36.5 of the Copper River Highway, is closed until a replacement bridge is built. A dramatic shift in the Copper River increased the amount of water flowing under the bridge, resulting in severe erosion. (Photo by Jeff Conaway, USGS).

From Bridge Looking East
[UPDATE Feb. 8, 2012 - There's a long discussion at Trip Advisor - Child's Glacier - which includes this comment (#51- Feb. 7, 2012):
I am the person building Childs Glacier Lodge ( I am hoping to provide transportation to and from the Glacier. Problem is, the Forest Service wants their piece of the pie. I was informed a USFS permit is necessary to have people walk from the road to my boat and back to the road across the river on the other side of the closed (washed out) bridge 339. I have a 15 passenger van on the other side of the washout. I have applied for the permit and have been informed I may have an answer sometime in March. The USFS has however stated to me that the USFS Campground will be closed but that they are reviewing that decision. Issues that need to be addressed by the USFS for their campground are sewer and garbage disposal. Even if the campground is closed, my facility in front of the glacier will be where I will take people if they (the USFS) gives me the permit. I am allowed to go there as long as I don't charge so I will be working on my lodge as soon as the snow and ice situation allows. If the permit is granted the permit conditions will determine terms, schedule and price. If everything works out, there is nothing more grand than Childs Glacier calving. There was a reason two world champion surfers chose it as the only glacier calving waves ever surfed.]

1 comment:

  1. Great post Steve. That bridge has been in danger forever. And will be in the future. One could do well to get a jet boat and ferry folks to a quiet time at the Million $ bridge. Best place on the earth for glacier fishing.....if the glacier is still there.


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