Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Take 'Steel Bridge' to Chilkat Lake?


Members of the board of the Haines Borough’s Dalton Trail Road Maintenance Service Area have an idea for the “Steel Bridge,” the aging, metal and timber span over the Klehini River at 26 Mile – put it over the Tsirku River to access Chilkat Lake.

The state Department of Transportation is scheduled to replace the Steel Bridge in 2014 with a new, $8 million bridge that’s wider and 90 feet longer. The Steel Bridge has been moved once already. It was used in Juneau decades ago.

The service area board in March asked the borough to investigate the possibility of using the bridge. “If that is not an option, the board would like to explore long-term planning to address (lake access),” according to minutes of its March meeting.

Board chair Robert Venables said residents don’t want a road or car traffic to the remote lake, but would like better access for ATVs and snowmachines. A portable snowmachine bridge is used there in winter, but summertime access is restricted to jetboats and floatplanes.

“As folks are aging they need more dependability and reliability of access,” Venables said this week. “If it’s not this bridge, they’re still interested in improved access over there.”

The idea didn’t gain much traction at last week’s borough assembly meeting.

“As for using that bridge, I’d be pretty much against it,” said assemblywoman Joanne Waterman. “The state is replacing that bridge because it’s expensive to maintain. I don’t see the borough at this time taking over that kind of expense in a remote area, and I don’t know that the residents want it.”

Venables said this week that the board’s lake representative supports the idea and said use of the bridge could be limited to ATVs and snowmachines by placing stanchions at either end. “This bridge has been good for how many years? It’s probably good for carrying snowmachines and ATVs for another hundred years.”

Waterman suggested that variability in the Tsirku’s course could undermine the bridge. Venables conceded the idea is new. “We don’t know everything that we need to know. We just know there could be a use for it there.”

The assembly discussed sending the idea to the planning commission for further study but followed the recommendation of member Debra Schnabel, to leave the matter with the service area.

“As the assembly, we don’t need to look at this as a borough project. If the Dalton Trail Road Maintenance Service Area thinks it’s a good idea to put the Klehini River bridge over the Tsirku River and build approaches and maintain the bridge, they can do it. They’re a road maintenance service area… We have no objection to the service area doing it, if that’s what they want,” Schnabel said.

The new bridge is in design, with bids to go out about a year from now, said DOT regional director Al Clough. Lengthening the bridge 90 feet added $3 million to an initial project estimate, he said.

In related news, DOT will be conducting an inspection of the Steel Bridge Friday and Saturday.The temporary lane closures will affect all traffic between Haines Highway and Chilkat Lake Road on Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Drivers should expect intermittent delays of approximately 20 minutes while the single-lane bridge is occupied by inspection equipment.

DOT said drivers should use caution while navigating through roadside work zones and to be aware of flaggers and heavy equipment in the roadway.