By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch State Rout 161 in the Graham area will be blocked for about 60 hours next week so that fish can have an easier time crossing underneath it. Driver will encounter a total weekend closure of the highway just south of 304th Street East from 9 p.m. on Sept. 9 until 5 a.m. on Sept. 12 while crews replace an undersized culvert that carries South Creek. The old culvert also is a passage GÇô but not a good one GÇô for spawning salmon. So state Department of Transportation (DOT) workers will replace it with a much larger, modern box culvert that's designed to accommodate fish. At times during the days before and after the highway closure, motorists may encounter one-way alternating traffic, said Doug Adamson, a DOT spokesman. Approximately 9,000 vehiclet trips per day occur on the affected stretch of highway, according to DOT. Detours will take traffic down 304th to State Route 7, and from there to 352nd Street and back to SR-161. To minimize the inconvenience, drivers might want to give themselves extra time to reach their destinations, head earlier in the mornings or later in the evenings, and postpone any unnecessary trips, Adamson said. Project engineer Dewayne Matlock said the work is scheduled over the weekend in order to minimize impacts on commuters and and school-related traffic during weekdays. Also, the schedule avoids the Labor Day weekend and the anticipated heavy holiday traffic, he noted. The around-the-clock closure of the highway is necessary to allow crews to dig a large, deep hole, remove the existing culvert and install the new one GÇô a reinforced concrete box that will measure 40 feet long, 26 feet wide and 10 feet tall. A construction permit issued by the state Fish and Wildlife Department requires the project to be finished by Sept. 15 in order to avoid disruption of fish migration. The SRd-161 project, which is costing approximately $700,000, is one of 77 in Washington that are designed to improve fish passage by removing barriers. Officials say a fish passage barrier is anything that hinders fish from moving through a waterway. Culverts, which are tunnels or large pipes beneath roadways, may allow water to flow but don't necessarily provide adequate conditions for fish to swim through. The water that flows through culverts may hinder fish migration if it's too swift, too shallow, or spills unevenly into or out of the culvert. The SR-161/South Creek undertaking is one of four such projects in Pierce County. The others are on Lacamas Creek at State Route 507, on Jovita Creek at State Route 167 (near the King County boundary), and on Salmon Creek at State Route 6 west of the Narrows Bridge. A court case involving Indian tribes and salmon issues led to a six-year plan for the 77 projects replacing and improving crossings and barriers from 2015 to 2021. The work has a combined cost of $258 million, according to DOT. The South Creek project is among projects totaling $87 million in the 2015-17 state budget cycle alone. DOT officials say the agency has been working for years to remove fish passage barriers. Twenty-one Indian tribes in Washington convinced U.S. District Court to rule that the state has a treaty-based duty to preserve fish runs that requires it to repair or replace culverts that restrict salmon and steelhead migration. The court, in ruling in favor of the tribes, declared that the right of taking fish, as stated in the Stevens Treaties, requires the state to refrain from building or operating culverts under state-maintained roads that hinder fish passage and reduce the number of fish available for tribal harvest. The federal court, in its finding that such state-owned culverts exist, issued an order in March 2013 for the state to increase its effort to remove the offending culverts by 2030. The closure of SR-161 for its culvert project will impact emergency vehicle, such as fire trucks and emergency medical aid cars. Bob Vellias, chief of South Pierce Fire and Rescue, said "transports coming out of Eatonville and areas south will need to move to State Route 7" to reach certain destinations. The closure was initially tentatively proposed by DOT for the dates of Aug. 19-21 or Aug. 26-28. The September dates were choseninstead because more time was needed to obtain the culvert pieces, Matlock explained.
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