The new Klehini River Bridge opened to traffic Wednesday, August 23. (photo courtesy proHNS LLC)

A new bridge connecting the Haines Highway to Chilkat Lake Road and Porcupine Road is now open for traffic. The structure replaces an old bridge with a long history in Southeast.

The Klehini River Bridge opened to traffic on Wednesday. Construction on the Department of Transportation project took about a year.  Aurah Landau is a spokesperson for DOT.

“Construction on the project started last summer,” says Landau. “And bridge pilings and foundations were put in by last fall. This summer, the girders and the decking were installed and the earthworks were done. There’s also part of the road realigned in order to line up the road approaches to the bridge this summer.”

Landau says there were minimal disruptions to traffic during construction. The old bridge remained open most of the time.

The old structure is still there for now.

“The old bridge is staying in place because it will be easier to get it out during periods of low water flow,” says Landau. “That will happen later on this winter.”

The old Klehini River Bridge has a history in Southeast. But its future is unclear.

“It’s an old bridge from Juneau,” says Landau. “It was part of the original 1931 Brotherhood Bridge in Juneau. It was barged to Haines before 1969. That’s one section of it. The second section came also from the Brotherhood Bridge and was added a few years later. So it’s got a long history it will be interesting to see what happens to it after this.”

During routine inspections, DOT decided the bridge needed to be replaced. The project has been in the works since 2011.

“DOT has a bridge inspection program, part of a national program,” says Landau. “We inspect every single one of the state’s bridges every two years. And when a bridge starts to get to the point where it’s deteriorating, we inspect it more regularly. The old bridge was safe, but it was found to be structurally deficient. And so it was slated for removal.”

The total cost of replacing the structure was about $9.7 million. Landau says about 90 percent of that was paid for with federal funding. The state paid about nine percent.

Two Haines companies worked on the project. Southeast Roadbuilders contracted with DOT. The consulting firm proHNS worked as a subcontractor.

Landau says it’s important to preserve access across the river.

“It offers access to residential areas and recreation and to development up in the Porcupine area,” says Landau. “Having the access open adds value to Haines.”

Traffic will now be rerouted away from the old bridge and onto the new structure.