Buxton, Manning, Transportation

Pongratz Road to close for three months for bridge, culvert replacement

Geese near Wingham Farms, located just east of the bridge replacement project on Pongratz Road. Photo: Chas Hundley

A three month road closure is coming to Pongratz Road between Manning and Buxton this summer, according to plans by Washington County to replace a bridge and a culvert on the gravel road between the two communities. 

While a firm start date is not yet listed, the road closure is expected to begin this summer, and could extend into the fall, according to an online open house for the project established by Washington County Land Use and Transportation (LUT). Further construction may continue after the road reopens into the winter of 2021. 

A detour around the construction will divert road users onto Highway 26 for about three months this summer, though access to homes in the affected area will be open, according to the county. The culvert project will begin first, followed by the bridge replacement project. 

The detour around Pongratz Road. Map courtesy Washington County LUT.

Culvert Replacement

According to Washington County LUT, the culvert slated for replacement on Pongratz Road is located between Tolke Road and Ardabeth Lane.

“[The culvert] is too small and often clogs. We are replacing the culvert with a larger metal pipe to improve water flow and allow fish to pass upstream,” the county said in a statement on the project open house. 

“The water flowing through the culvert is an unnamed tributary to West Fork Dairy Creek,” said Heather Sturgill, a spokesperson for Washington County LUT in an email to the Banks Post. 

The stream, part of the 231-square mile Dairy-McKay Watershed, passes under the Banks-Vernonia State Trail a few hundred feet above the culvert slated for replacement. From there, it passes under Pongratz Road through the existing culvert, an 18-inch corrugated steel passage, according to county records obtained by the Banks Post. Less than a mile later, the stream empties into West Fork Dairy Creek.

The new culvert will be a 72-inch culvert, and the total cost will be $450,000, paid for through Washington County’s road fund

The existing 18-inch culvert will be replaced with a 72-inch culvert. Graphic courtesy Washington County LUT.

It’s not the only culvert in the area being replaced, and it’s not the only culvert in the region considered a barrier to fish passage in the Dairy-McKay Watershed, which drains nearly one-third of the entire Tualatin River Basin. According to a 1999 Bureau of Land Management  study on the watershed, coho salmon, winter steelhead, cutthroat trout — the latter two native to the watershed — and more species call the watershed home. 

According to a 2006 fish passage assessment conducted by Washington County LUT, there are hundreds of culverts throughout the Dairy-McKay Watershed, the largest watershed in the Tualatin Basin. The assessment took stock only of culverts capable of supporting fish species, eliminating drainage culverts, small culverts considered unlikely to support fish, and other questionable culvert locations. 

In the end, 164 culverts were surveyed as part of the 2006 assessment, and 96% of those culverts were considered “full or partial barriers to fish passage.”

Another culvert replacement project is expected to take place this year in the same region, this one an Oregon Department of Transportation-owned culvert in Buxton that crosses under Highway 26 near Fisher Road. The culvert there, carrying Mendenhall Creek before it too empties into West Fork Dairy Creek, is a more significant project in terms of scope and price.

The culvert is planned to be replaced by a single-span bridge and the stream bed restored, at a cost of $6.6 million, according to the project website.

Bridge Replacement

East of Tolke Road, Whitcher Creek passes under Pongratz Road. The bridge the creek — also a West Fork Dairy Creek tributary — passes under is a wood bridge built in 1981, according to county records obtained by the Banks Post. 

The county plans to replace the weight-limited 25-foot long structure with a 34-foot-long concrete bridge, which will be able to support heavier vehicles on the bridge. 

The wooden bridge at Whitcher Creek will be replaced with a 34-foot-long concrete bridge. Graphic courtesy Washington County LUT.

The total cost for the bridge project is expected to be $800,000, paid for through Washington County’s road fund

An old tradition, online

In the past, projects of this scope would often warrant a community meeting, held locally, perhaps in the new Hornshuh Creek Fire Station #14 community room, located less than two miles away. But due to COVID-19, the open house is online. 

Gone are the days when open house participants would snack on cookies and coffee supplied by the county as they learned about the project. In their stead? Recipes for you to make your own cookies. 

In a section of the online open house — and open house web pages for other county projects — is a “refreshments” tab, in this case holding a recipe for “Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies.” The recipe was submitted by Heather Sturgill.

“The cookie recipes are my favorite part of the open houses. I test each one,” said Sturgill. 

Comments and questions concerning the project can be left at the project open house website.

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Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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