After months of detouring through the Green Valley countryside, motorists against can travel a direct route between Enumclaw and Black Diamond.
The Kummer Bridge, a 77-year-old span over the Green River, was opened following a Friday afternoon ceremony that featured state and local dignitaries, WSDOT officials, the Enumclaw High marching band and more.
The bridge, a link in state Route 169, had been closed since November. A slowly-shifting hillside was to blame, as gradual ground movement convinced authorities with the Washington State Department of Transportation that a major fix was needed to keep the structure safe.
The project was completed a few days ahead of schedule and several million dollars under budget. When WSDOT closed the span, $15 million in federal emergency money was appropriated. Lorena Eng, regional administrator for the Department of Transportation, said the total cost was closer to $10 million.
Eng kicked off Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony by explaining that 13,000 cubic yards of soil had to be removed to accommodate the repair work. At the heart of the project, she said, was the drilling of 57 vertical shafts, each 6 feet in diameter and up to 100 feet deep; each was filled with concrete, creating a barrier against the shifting south bank of the gorge.
“The hillside here has been moving,” Eng said, equating the situation to “a 5-mile landslide.”
Enumclaw Mayor John Wise said completion of the project is good news on several fronts. The seven-month detour around the bridge impacted police and fire functions, he said, and added minutes to emergency vehicles headed to the Enumclaw hospital.
The economic impacts of the bridge closure have been well publicized and were noted by Wise.
“Our businesses in Enumclaw are hurting and one of the reasons, they tell me, is the bridge,” he said.
Wise also noted that the detour has simply been inconvenient for local commuters who work in the Eastside communities to the north.
Black Diamond Mayor Howard Botts noted his longtime appreciation for the Kummer Bridge.
“I’ve used this bridge all my life,” he said, recalling high school days when he made the bridge crossing twice a day.
He, too, noted the economic importance of getting the highway back in order.
“This is an important piece of highway,” Botts said. “Merchants all along the way are glad it’s open.”
State Rep. Chris Hurst also crossed the bridge on a near-daily basis before his retirement from the Black Diamond Police Department.
Hurst dredged up lyrics from a Joni Mitchell classic when he noted “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That semtiment applies to the Kummer Bridge, he said, because it was easy to take the direct highway route for granted.
“This is a very important day from an emergency services standpoint,” he said.
State Sen. Pam Roach reminded everyone of two entities that made the whole thing happen. First is the taxpayers whose money was spent on the project, she said; second is the workers who brought the project to completion quicker than anticipated.
All along, WSDOT officials have maintained they would meet the construction deadline, which called for the bridge to be open before the Fourth of July holiday. Two weeks ago, Transportation representatives were estimating that the opening might not occur until this week.
Mayors Wise and Botts made a ceremonial snip of a ribbon with a pair of oversized scissors, then hopped into a bright red 1969 Mercury Cougar for a ceremonial first trip across the bridge. Shortly after, WSDOT crews began removing barriers, preparing for a full opening later Friday afternoon.