Motocross crowds will see detours

Bridge replacement, motocross maneuver around one another

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Work will affect state Highway 14 near the Clackamas-Skamania county line.

photoThe wooden Cougar Creek Bridge on Washougal River Road, shown in January, was built in 1935.

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Road work ahead

Starting Monday, construction crews will close a short section of Washougal River Road at milepost 5.1. The closure is expected to last until this fall while workers replace the Cougar Creek Bridge.

HOW TO AVOID IT: Detour routes — including alternate routes to the Washougal MX Park — are posted on the Clark County Public Works website.

photoClick on map to enlarge

Take a major road closure, a re-routed highway and toss in a huge event that draws some 20,000 spectators to the same area.

A recipe for chaos? Local transportation and emergency officials hope a set of detours will keep things moving. They'll be tested to the max next week, when the Washougal MX National motocross event comes to town.

"It will definitely be interesting," said Brian Barnes, a spokesman for the Washougal MX Park outside Washougal. "But we have to work with what we're given."

Starting Monday, construction crews will close a section of Washougal River Road around milepost 5.1, north of Washougal. The closure will last until Clark County replaces the Cougar Creek Bridge, a wooden span built in 1935. The $1.4 million project is scheduled for completion in October.

The closure severs a major thoroughfare outside Washougal, and a major route to the Washougal MX Park on Northeast Borin Road. Spectators will begin arriving Wednesday, Barnes said, and many stay until the main event ends next Saturday night. Amateur races are planned for Thursday and Friday.

The county has mapped out detours to get around the project and to the track. One would take vehicles through Washougal on Southeast 32nd Street, following the route shown on the accompanying map and eventually reaching Southeast Vernon Road before rejoining Washougal River Road east of the closure. From the east, drivers could take Salmon Falls Road from state Highway 14 and access the track from the other direction.

The county has more than 50 signs in place marking detours, said construction engineer Dave Dolan. Between Southeast Blair Road and Northeast Hughes Road, Washougal River Road will remain open only to local access.

Plenty of people have asked: Why not just wait an extra week, and start the closure after the motocross event is over? A tight timeline simply didn't allow that, said project manager Jean Singer. In-water work for the bridge replacement is restricted to only the month of August, and contractor Conway Construction has plenty to do before that window arrives, she said.

"It was always going to be in conflict," she said. "This is what they felt they needed to do to get the work done."

Staging is difficult at the crowded site, which is too narrow to build a temporary span and keep Washougal River Road open, according to the county. That also affects how the job plays out, Singer said.

"It's very linear," she said. "You can't do too many multiple tasks at the same time."

The Washougal River Road closure isn't the only obstacle for visitors making their way to the motocross event. The Washington State Department of Transportation is in the midst of rebuilding Highway 14 through Camas and Washougal, and has temporarily diverted all traffic to a frontage road to the south. That means motocross visitors -- many of them with large rigs or trailers -- will also have to navigate two roundabouts if they use Highway 14 coming from the west.

"That's definitely a change for people who haven't been through there," WSDOT spokeswoman Abbi Russell said.

Near the Clark-Skamania county line, a separate project will repave a different section of Highway 14 starting Monday. WSDOT plans to avoid traffic impacts there during critical travel times, Russell said, and is mindful of the impending wave of visitors.

In addition to the motocross track, county officials have coordinated with local agencies and emergency responders about the Washougal River Road closure. Impacts go beyond this summer -- by the time fall arrives, some local families will be maneuvering around the project on their way to and from school.

Barnes said motocross organizers were disappointed the project couldn't work around an event that's been a mainstay for more than three decades. The Washougal MX Park is prepared to adapt, he said.

"It is what it is, and we're going to work with the detour," Barnes said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.