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With Old Snake River Bridge Gone, Concerns for New Bridge Remain

Nome's old Snake River Bridge was scrapped last week, resulting in more than 200,000 pounds of steel covered in lead-based paint set to be barged out to Seattle. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Nome’s old Snake River Bridge is gone, removed as part of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s work in town this season, but while the bridge’s replacement has been in use for more than a year, a lack of lighting and a sharp approach to adjoining roads is raising safety concerns for those who use the new bridge frequently.

The old bridge had been in place for decades—DOT records show it first received maintenance back in 1979—but it has required more and more expensive repairs every year.

“It had just wore out its life,” said Tony Cox with DOT in Nome. “It was time for a replacement.”

Cox said the $92,000 removal of the old bridge took about two weeks, with careful attention paid to the lead-based paint on the bridge’s steel structure.

“All steel that’s on the bridge needs to be removed that has lead-based paint on it,” he said early last week. That meant strict precautions to collect any lead-based paint that could flake off during removal, including a tarp to collect debris. Cox said any steel areas that needed to be cut were also being treated with chemicals before cuts were made.

In the end, Cox said about 205,000 pounds of steel—more than 100 tons—were salvaged from the removal project. The lead paint, Cox said, means the steel has to be barged down to Seattle for recycling. Minor work continues on the bridge’s abutments along the river bank and along the asphalt where the bridge formerly met the road.

“It’s all getting shipped out of town and down to a foundry for proper disposal,” Cox said.

That leaves the new bridge as the only way to get to Nome’s causeway, fuel tank farm, the town’s telecommunications array, and more. But the new bridge has shortcomings many in Nome want addressed, shortcomings Harbormaster Lucas Stotts said were first brought up by the Port Commission and were sent along to the City Council.

“The main concern is just there’s no lighting on the approach where the new bridge comes across Snake River and intersects with Seppala Drive,” Stotts said. “It’s kind of a blind corner as it is, with just the angles going straight into elevation, and no lighting just makes it a little bit worse.”

City council members said they passed those concerns on to DOT officials, who are hoping to implement a fix before the brief construction season ends.

“We’re in the process of working on a solution,” Cox said. “Don’t have a timeline now. The goal is to get at least some sort of temporary lighting up for this winter.”

As for that “blind corner” and the sharp turn on to the bridge, DOT preconstruction engineer Ryan Anderson said the current alignment passed muster with the city and the public in several design meetings, as well as with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency which must vet any bridge project that spans waterways for navigation concerns. Anderson said future projects, including a re-alignment of Center Creek Road (commonly known as the “Jail Road”), could alleviate some issues.

“We are proceeding with evaluating a design there that we could make work at the intersections on both sides of the bridge, to help out with some of the alignment,” Anderson said. “It would be a realigned intersection there with Center Creek [Road], so basically get Center Creek to line up with the bridge.”

Anderson said the Center Creek realignment doesn’t have a timeline or construction funds yet, but he reiterated some sort of lighting solution—even a temporary one—should be in place before winter. Just what the solution will be, he said, is currently being worked on by engineers in Nome and Fairbanks.