Work starts April 1st on one of the two roadways spanning Hammer Slough in Petersburg. The borough will begin replacing aging wooden decking and supports on the Rasmus Enge bridge.

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Over the next few months the borough’s public works department will be replacing rotten wooden deck planks on the bridge. “What we are doing is a partial rehabilitation so that we can keep the bridge safe to use and put it back to it’s regular load rating,” the borough’s assistant public works director Chris Cotta explained, adding, “It was recently de-rated by DOT just because of the deteriorated condition of some of the portions.”

Angela Denning/KFSK

The state’s Department of Transportation lowered the maximum weight limit for vehicles driving over the wooden structure this winter. Surveys done by the DOT and an engineering firm contracted by the borough found problems with both the decking and some of its support.

Cotta said the local government typically replaces the decking and railings every decade. “So what we’re doing for this project is we’re gonna replace the deck, bull railings, the hand railings, which is typically what the borough would do every 10 years or so. But with this project we’re going into it a little bit more. We’re gonna replace some of the stringers, pile caps, and we’re actually gonna be repairing some of the piles and replacing some of the pile bracing so it’s more involved and it’s gonna take a little bit longer than it has in the past.”

Public works employees will be doing the rehab work and it’s expected to take eight weeks. Cotta said this is typically a busy time of year for the public works department and it will be a challenge to complete the bridge and other projects. “There’s a lot of little projects that folks want to get done. There’s definitely a group that wants us to do some landscaping over by the whale observatory where pump station five just was redone. So there’s going to be a lot of irons in the fire and I think that’s going to be our primary challenge is just, keeping momentum on the project and making sure we do get it done this seasion in some kind of timely fashion.”

Timing is an issue since the other bridge over Hammer Slough could see some closures later this year. The Louis Miller bridge on South Nordic Drive will see also rehab work as part of a state project. However the borough plans to have the wooden Rasmus Enge bridge work completed before the state contracted South Nordic projects gets underway.

The local government has budgeted just over 200,000 dollars for the Enge bridge work. That money is mostly from local coffers, except for a $63,000 dollar grant from the Denali Commission.

Public works plans to close off the bridge to normal traffic for eight weeks of the project although access to the Sons of Norway hall parking lot may be open for a while longer. Cotta said public works will accommodate people using the Sons of Norway and the businesses and apartments on Sing Lee Alley. “We’ll probably end up just blocking the bridge off at both ends. We’ll allow for local traffic. Cause we’re only gonna be working on a small portion of it at any given time. But yeah, we are gonna start at the South Harbor end and work north.”

Construction is not expected to be finished by the Little Norway festival although Cotta said they plan to shut down work in mid-May to allow access to the Sons of Norway Hall during the festivities. Borough officials say this year’s rehab work will extend the life of the bridge just until a replacement can be built. The department is asking for $160,000 dollars in next year’s budget to design a new bridge. Cotta noted it will be a community discussion what a replacement will look like. “What do the people of Petersburg want for this bridge? Do we want a modern structure that’s gonna have probably a longer service life but a higher cost and it will change the look of it? Or do we want something more traditional?”

Ultimately it will like be an assembly decision what any future replacement bridge will look like and it depend on finding money for a replacement.