Caltrans looks to Idaho 21 fish passage project as an example

The Five Mile Creek Fish-Passage project, wrapping up near Lowman on Idaho 21 this summer, has received a lot of well-deserved attention – and not just locally.
In early May, ITD received a phone call from Steve Thorne of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) about the $1.2 million Forest Service-funded project.

He read about the project in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ state-by-state “green” project roundup a few weeks ago. Caltrans faces several projects with similar challenges, and ITD’s work on the Idaho 21 project intrigued them in their search for cost-effective solutions, Thorne said.

 “Caltrans seems to have bigger obstacles than we did,” explained Coonce, project manager for ITD’s fish-passage efforts. “Funding is the biggest hurdle.”

Coonce discussed ITD’s handling of the project with Thorne, the Caltrans Northern Region Chief Hydraulics Design Engineer in Redding, Calif. “He was interested in all levels of the project – budget/funding, design, and construction,” said Coonce.

The inquiry is evidence that ITD’s best practices are being recognized and emulated by other states, a major step in helping the department reach Director Brian Ness’s goal of becoming the best in the country and modeling practices for other states to follow.
“It seems to cost many times more to develop projects in California than it does in Idaho,” she added. Thorne told Coonce that in California the development costs nearly equal construction costs.
Thorne said Caltrans has invested about $245,000 in planning and preliminary environmental studies and coordination. He said the capital costs for the Idaho project and the one Caltrans is proposing are comparable.
The support costs is where Thorne said he sees the vast difference. He calculated the Idaho 21 project’s support-to-capital ratio at 22 percent (including a 14-percent indirect overhead on the support). 
“Our experience in Caltran's District 2 for small-bridge replacement projects is a ratio of 80-100 percent,” Thorne said.
“Much of the additional cost we think is due to the process, regulations and permits required,” he said. “We are estimating a support-to-capitol cost ratio of 85 percent for the FGC project.” That could add another $1.5 million to Caltrans’ cost for the bridge, doubling the cost. 
Thorne explained that the information from Coonce was very useful in trying to obtain funding and design for a number of fish-passage projects, most notably the Fort Goff Creek project in the Klamath National Forest on California State Route 96.
A steel culvert about 400 feet upstream from the confluence of Fort Goff Creek and the Klamath River is designed to serve coho salmon, steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, but its 15-foot width and shallow but high-velocity water prohibited sufficient passage.
Although Fort Goff's proposed bridge is 60 feet long versus 125 feet for the Idaho 21 bridge, Caltrans will need an upstream detour, CIDH (drilled shaft) piles for the abutments, a fiber optic cable to relocate and a tighter vertical clearance.
The bridge proposed to replace the culvert in summer 2014 is a concrete slab structure.
"Director Ness says we will know we are becoming the best when other state DOTs want to learn from what we are doing," said ITD District 3 Engineer Dave Jones. "The nationwide recognition we received on this project and Caltrans calling to ask about it illustrates we are becoming a recognized leader in the field."
Coonce said Thorne’s group had identified projects that needed to be done, but said the main obstacle was funding – especially considering what it costs to get things done in California.
“In my opinion the Idaho 21 fish-passage project is an excellent example of creating environmentally sustainable conditions,” said Coonce  “I also think we got it at a rock-bottom price. We should consider ourselves lucky in Idaho - our highway money stretches farther.”
“Regardless of the environmental regulation and having the Forest Service funding, the Idaho 21 project’s 22-percent ratio seems very efficient for this type of project,” said Thorne. “I congratulate the ITD project team for delivering this project so efficiently.”

Published 5-25-2012