YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) After more than a year of enduring slowdowns and bumpy detours, motorists on U.S. Highway 12 west of Naches are finally getting a smoother and safer ride. The state Department of Transportation put the finishing touches on the $12 million Tieton River Bridge Project in mid September.
The work involved replacing two 77-year-old bridges and widening lanes and shoulders along or over the Tieton River, about 14 mi. west of Naches. The roadway between the two bridges also was moved away from unstable slopes to reduce the risk of rockfall.
Built in 1933, the bridges were only 24 ft. wide. Over the years, more than a few drivers gulped as they drove across the bridge while a truck and trailer barreled past in the opposition direction. And during winter months, Highway 12 — which unlike Snoqualmie Pass rarely is closed due to weather — sees more than the usual number of big rigs.
Design of the replacement bridges began in 2004. Construction followed five years later. Traffic was shifted to the new bridges in July. In the mile-long project area, the Transportation Department has recorded one minor accident in the past five years. But in the general area, the Washington State Patrol has reported 52 accidents from 2004 to 2009. Seven of those involved injuries.
The roadway receives steady traffic throughout the year, with as many as 4,600 vehicles a day in the summer, according to transportation officials.
In the winter, the highway sees 2,500 vehicles a day, many of them headed to White Pass ski area.
White Pass is in the final stages of completing a long-awaited $9 million expansion project of its own. When the ski area opens this season, it will feature two new lifts, a 5,000-sq.-ft. High Camp Lodge and 13 additional ski runs in the Hogback Basin, southwest of the existing ski area.
If all goes well, the project — which will nearly double the size of the ski area — also will bring more visitors, McCarthy said. He estimated the number will grow from about 130,000 a season to as many as 150,000.