News

Like a bridge over troubled everything: Award-winning roads dept. taps millions for repairs


Liane Welch takes that ageless idiom about not burning bridges very literally.

By Ann Powers
editor@northcoastcitizen.com

In fact, the Tillamook County Public Works Department (TCPWD) director and professional engineer is on a constant quest to repair, replace and build new ones – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Winning awards

Welch and her department received the Oregon American Public Works Association’s (Oregon APWA) 2016 Project of the Year Award, in the ‘structures less than $5 million division,’ during the Oregon APWA fall conference in Bend, Oct. 13.

Eugene-based contractor OBEC Consulting Engineers joins TCPWD in the recognition. Both are being honored for their effective partnership, quick action and tireless efforts in the wake of the major winter storm brutalizing the county last December.

Two months after it hit, President Obama declared Tillamook County, and 12 others statewide, federal disasters due to the heavy December rains, winds, flooding and landslides brought on by the storm. Welch said OBEC designed several temporary bridges that her teams installed in a single week.

Tillamook County officials said numerous roadways remained operable because of their diligence, providing critical access for scores of emergency responders, work crews and residents.

“I can’t say enough about Liane Welch, her staff and (OBEC) and the proactive, get-her-done approach they take in dealing with the December 2015 disaster response,” said Commissioner Mark Labhart. “One emergency bridge they and the contractor put in place literally overnight and the next morning kept the community of Cape Meares from being totally cut off during the December storm.”

In a more-than-humble-way, Welch said she, her crews and the contractors were merely doing their jobs.

“We just do our work,” she explained. “We work consistently hard here and just try to do the best job possible.”

Moving forward

Currently, Welch is focused on doing the best job possible for the Whalen Island Road-Sand Lake bridge replacement project. The bridge is the area’s only access in and out of Whalen Island County Park and the Clay Myers State Natural Area.

Design for the Whalen Island Bridge is finished and the $2.6 million project will open for bidding on Oct. 20. Photo courtesy of TCPWD
Design for the Whalen Island Bridge is finished and the $2.6 million project will open for bidding on Oct. 20. Photo courtesy of TCPWD

Welch cautioned if it isn’t repaired, travelers would lose total access to those recreation sites, and even worse, some may lose their lives.

“It is scary,” she said. “It swings in the air because it’s broken. The foundation is in poor condition… it’s load limited and you cannot take a garbage truck over it (because) it would collapse under heavy loads. The county would be liable.”

TCPWD has the overpass down to one lane because of the condition of its foundation, Welch added.

At their Oct. 5 regular meeting, county commissioners unanimously approved an amendment to the Local Bridge Program Project (LBP) agreement, which allows the Whalen improvements to move forward.

LBP is a Federal Highway Administration initiative administered by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Agencies statewide compete for funds available through the program.

Under the agreement, Welch said the feds pay for 90 percent, while the county chips in ten percent, of the Whalen project’s $2.6 million total cost. The work aims to secure the bridge’s foundation, lengthen it by 70 feet and reduce water velocities for better fish passage.

The $10 million Lommen Bridge project is currently under construction. Designs include a base isolation system to reduce the effects of shaking from a Cascadia Earthquake. Photo courtesy of TCPWD
The $10 million Lommen Bridge project is currently under construction. Designs include a base isolation system to reduce the effects of shaking from a Cascadia Earthquake. Photo courtesy of TCPWD

Officials said bids on the project open Oct. 20. Construction is expected to start later this fall and continue through the winter. The campground will close during construction.

The Whalen work isn’t the only project Welch has tapped LBP funds to complete. She said the $1.7 million Wyss Bridge project, over the Trask Slough, recently wrapped up. The $10 million Lommen Bridge project, on Miami River Road over the Nehalem River, is currently underway.

Welch has three more bridge projects on her to-do list. Two are in the southern part of the county on East Beaver Creek and Cedar Creek roads. The third is in the county’s central area on Trask River Road.

“We’re starting those designs this winter,” she said. “We try to stretch every dollar we can. I constantly look for money everywhere. We’re a poor department over here.”