Paving the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road?
A public open house on June 10th puts us one step closer to making the paving of the Middle Fork - Snoqualmie Road a reality.
Hikers have long had a love/hate relationship with the Middle Fork - Snoqualmie Road (FR 56) outside of North Bend, in the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (MBS). We endure the potholes, washouts, and mud in order to access to the beautiful Middle Fork and its wonderful destinations.
Could that slow, axle-grinding, tire-popping drive be just a memory not so long from now? It's a real possibility.
Since 2004, the MBS, other agencies and the public have been discussing the possibility of paving the Middle Fork Road. Yes, paving. Methodically, the agencies have been addressing various concerns about the road - river access, the "forest drive" nature of the road, wildlife considerations, potential Wild & Scenic designation of the corridor, and more. A lot of planning and preparatory work must be completed before the first earth-moving machine starts its engine.
Along the way, the MBS has hosted several public meetings. I attended the most recent meeting at the North Bend Ranger Station on June 10th, and the question most asked of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) engineers was the effect of potholes on pavement. Engineers advised that imported material will be used as a base. Native material is the first choice, but when that native material is troublesome for pavement, other material is brought in. A coarser material will be placed atop this base, and that will be topped with new, non-permeable pavement that allows water to run off into road ditches.
Because FR 56 passes through King County and Forest Service land, both agencies are responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the road. After seven years of intricate negotiations between the MBS, King County and FHWA, construction agreements have been signed and the funding secured.
Engineers and scientists from these agencies, plus consultations with Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WFDW), and National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) have developed a design to ensure reasonable cost, the best choice of material for paving, erosion control, fish passage culverts, and compliance with the Federal Endangered Species Act, the Federal Clean Water Act, State of Washington regulations and King County’s Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).
“Initial public input was important for the design of the road,” says Jim Franzel, the District Ranger for North Bend. “Originally it was designed to be 28 feet wide, but the public preferred a narrower road, so the design is at 20 feet, in order to preserve the forest road appeal.” Collaborations between multiple agencies involve a lot of hard work, especially where natural areas are concerned. FHWA and the Forest Service met with King County to address its Critical Areas Ordinance, which is better suited to urban areas. Because FR 56 is less urban than many King County roads, suitable variances to King County’s CAO were negotiated in order to obtain necessary environmental permits for the repair. All aspects of the road design include considerations to various federal and local environmental laws and regulations.
Western Federal Highways is used to such negotiations. FHWA has extensive experience in forest road design and facilitating the permitting processes among multiple jurisdictions, as well as wildlife considerations inherent in road construction in Western Washington. “Federal Highways is premiere in the industry. It’s what they do,” Franzel says. “I’m impressed with their expertise.”
The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area expansion plan includes a Wild & Scenic designation of the Pratt and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Rivers. “If expansion legislation passes,” Franzel advises, “the road is already designed for the Wild & Scenic designation and won’t need upgrades after the fact.”
The design is not yet complete, but a Preferred Alternative will be detailed in an upcoming NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, and will be available for public comment sometime during the winter of 2012. And if all goes well...dare we dream about having smooth passage in late 2012 or early 2013?