ELSIE - The Oregon Department of Transportation has selected JAL Construction Inc. of Bend to replace a failing culvert at Mail Creek on U.S. Highway 26.

The firm's bid to replace the culvert with a concrete bridge was $1.13 million.

In May, ODOT inspectors discovered deterioration of the 9-foot-tall iron culvert had accelerated. ODOT had planned to replace the culvert in 2005, but settling of the ground around the culvert threatened the stability of the highway.

The culvert carries Mail Creek beneath the highway approximately four miles east of the U.S. Highway 101 junction. The corrugated metal pipe is 103 feet long and is at the bottom of a 20-foot-deep ravine. It was originally installed in 1949.

ODOT decided to replace the culvert with a bridge to improve fish passage, according to Mike Spaeth, ODOT district manager. "This is good news for fish because it will improve habitat and passage for the runs of salmon and trout that migrate into the creek each year."

Spaeth said the culvert replacement would be divided into two phases. First, a contractor will build the bridge. Then the contractor will remove fill material and the culvert, and create a more fish-friendly steambed.

"The good news is this project will not require us to close the highway. We will be able to maintain one-lane traffic through the work zone during the entire project," said Spaeth.

He added that the lane closure would start about Sept. 22 and would last 12 days.

"I'm very glad we were able to wait until after Labor Day to start this project," he said.

Flaggers will control traffic through the work zone. A traffic signal will control traffic during nonwork hours.

The bridge project should be completed by Oct. 31.