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Managing Traffic Key to WSDOT’s MTB Job

The multi-year and $158 million overall project to complete the widening of I-5 from Centralia to Grand Mound, Wash., has entered its final phase.

Thu July 10, 2014 - West Edition
Irwin Rapoport

The multi-year and $158 million overall project to complete the widening of I-5 from Centralia to Grand Mound, Wash., has entered its final phase with the ongoing work by Kent, Wash.-based Scarsella Brothers Inc., whose $48 million phase of the work includes several new bridges and the building of new roads.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project is key to economic growth and improving traffic efficiency for commerce and local residents in Lewis and Thurston counties.

The project, when completed, will see the construction of two collector distributor (CD) lanes between the Mellen Street (Exit 81) and Harrison Avenue (Exit 82) interchanges that will improve safety by eliminating merging conditions between these interchanges and preserve mobility by separating local traffic from interstate traffic. It also includes safety improvements to the Mellen Street and Harrison Avenue interchanges, and widens and realigns the I-5 curve at Blakeslee Junction.

“I-5 is the most significant freight freeway on the West Coast, linking markets in Canada, the United States and Mexico, and is critical to the regional, state and national economy,” said Abbi Russell, WSDOT communications. “It also is the busiest commuter roadway in western Washington. Sections of I-5 in Cowlitz and Lewis counties are still only two lanes in each direction, making congestion a problem in this area. Even minor incidents can result in significant traffic backups.

“The area’s mobility and safety issues are expected to grow with anticipated traffic volume increases,” she adds. “Improving this segment of I-5 will help address these issues, improve traffic flow through Lewis County, and benefit freight mobility in this significant corridor.”

According to WSDOT, the completed project will result in drivers having: “Safer, faster trips on I-5 and adjacent local roads; local drivers being able to use the CD lanes to travel between Chehalis and Centralia without merging onto I-5; Interstate drivers not having to slow down for merging traffic between Mellen and Harrison avenues; and the new bridge over I-5, just south of Mellen Street, will improve connectivity between I-5 and the local community, including the airport, hospital and college.”

Planning, Designing, Choosing Materials

Colin Newell, the WSDOT project engineer, notes that six years of planning went into the design and choice of materials for the project, which is expected to have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

“Key areas of concern for planning were growth in local and interstate traffic and current and future traffic conflicts.” he said, explaining that for consultation phases, “We held stakeholder meetings with the local port, college, business leaders, hospital, cities and county. We also held utility coordination meetings to update sewer and power line distribution systems across the freeway, either underneath or overhead (mainly underneath).”

The choice of building materials was seriously considered in view of the local topography and environmental conditions.

“We used industry standard materials (e.g. pre-stressed concrete girders, geosynthetic walls with concrete fascia) and construction practices to keep the process straightforward,” said Newell. “The contractor and our staff are proficient using industry standard materials/practices, which helps create better productivity. This project is in a flood plain, so we had to consider flooding issues in our design. The couplet bridge provides access to Providence Centralia hospital if Mellen Street is flooded in a 100-year flood event. We’re also tying the project into local dikes for more protection.

“For environmental mitigation,” he added, “we are using credits from our wetland mitigation bank on the North Fork Newaukum River. We’re also building stormwater detention/filtration ponds and media filter drains (these help keep heavy metals out of stormwater).”

Design elements also included the experiences of general contractors in similar projects in terms of construction techniques and dealing with traffic issues.

“Our Traffic Data Office does pre- and post-construction data collection to monitor improvements, determine effectiveness of projects and suggest highway system improvements,” said Newell. “We’re always refining, always using the lessons from mistakes or best practices to apply to current projects that are either in design or construction.”

The project scoping, public involvement, and environmental documentation process began in 2006 and right-of-way acquisition and permit acquisition began in 2010. The first phase of the construction began in June 2012 and was completed last summer, which saw contractor Cascade Bridge LLC build two bridges over the Skookumchuck River for the CD roads and a new southbound bridge that carries I-5 over Reynolds Avenue in Centralia.

Final Phase Under Way

Scarsella began its phase last July and should be finished by late 2015. An immediate major challenge for the Scarsella project manager is bringing in one million tons of special select borrow, a 4-in. (10 cm) minus material. So far about 800,000 tons (725,748 t) has been delivered to the work site.

“We mine it out of the Martin pit that Lakeside Industries has at Grandmound,” said Tom Kress, Scarsella’s project manager. “We baled it out of the water with an 1100 Komatsu excavator [with a 10-yard bucket] and then, with a 988 Cat loader, pack it over and pile it up. We are doing most of the hauling to the site at night to minimize the traffic impact.”

Kress anticipates that when his portion of the project is complete, Scarsella will have brought in one million tons (907,184 t)of borrow, 127,000 tons (115,212 t) of CSBC, and 100,000 tons (90,718 t) of asphalt, and will have moved more than 100,000 cu. yd. (76,455 cu m) of Road Ex, and placed 60,000 cu. yds. (45,873 cu m) of top soil. The demolition of bridges and reconstruction of existing road should result in 35,000 tons (31,751 t) of ground asphalt, 2,000 cu yds. (1,529 cu m) of concrete, and 200,000 lbs. (90,718 kg) of rebar. Much of this material is expected to be recycled and used in the new construction.

Bridge Work

WSDOT traffic mitigation is crucial to Scarsella staying on schedule.

“WSDOT is doing its best to keep the traffic on local roads to help us out by moving the northbound Mellen Street off ramp approximately a half-mile to the south and the northbound Harrison off ramp 2/10s of a south and eliminating the northbound on ramp at Mellen,” said Kress. “When we started, we put the southbound traffic on the new southbound bridge that was built on the previous contract, Then we build the grade to put the north bound traffic on that same bridge. After that we tear down the two existing bridges and build a new northbound bridge next to the south bound bridge, and we’re building a new interchange at the Mellen Street couplet.

“So far we have done all fill in for couplet bridge at Mellen and the girders are all up,” he continued. “We’re getting ready to pour the deck [mid-April] and it will be done in May or June. We’re half-way through the settlement period fills and once achieved we can finish the drainage, get the crushed surfacing on and pave it.”

The two-lane bridge, one-way to east should be open to traffic on Sept. 15, a month earlier then the Oct. 15 deadline, which should translate into a $150,000 incentive bonus for Scarsella. The 154-ft. (47 m) span crosses four lanes of I-5 traffic.

“There have been no challenges in putting up the bridge,” said Kress. “We are building eight geo-synthetic walls next to the abutment, which requires 40,000 tons of backfill material. Falsework was placed after we set the girders to prevent materials from falling onto the freeway, we did rolling slow down, stopped the traffic, set the girders, and let the traffic resume and repeated the process until we reached the other side.”

A 500 ton (453 t) and a 350 ton (317 t) crane was used to help set the girders.

Within the bridge area, Scarsella also has to deal with some drainage issues; electrical work, signals, CSBC, paving, striping and landscaping.

“Then we have to complete the southbound CD line so that we can move the southbound traffic on to it,” said Kress. “This allows us to do the repair work and painting of the Shookumchuck Bridge (SB). Once that is complete, then we shift northbound traffic onto the refurbished SB Bridge and repair and repaint the northbound bridge. Then the traffic will move to both sides. This is very much a project of diverting traffic and moving onto the next step. You have to get those CD roads done and put the freeway traffic on them temporarily while you refurbish those bridges and that will probably happen in August or September.”

At the same time, crews will start placing crushed rock and start paving work next to several small side streets that tie into the new connector distributor roads.

“We haven’t started on that yet due to the winter weather,” said Kress, who added that the spring weather will see more subcontractors on site, which should increase the number of construction workers on site to nearly 100 (including the 75 Scarsella employees). “We have been working five to eight hour shifts during the day and four to 10 hour shifts at night. So far we have not had any weekend work, but some of the staging requires weekend closures of ramps to tie in the new alignments.”


The subcontractors include: SB Structures for bridge work, Lakeside Industries for paving, NE Electric for ITS, electrical, and signs, Petersen Bros. for barrier and guardrail, Hildebrand Concrete for curb and sidewalk, Hicks Stripping for stripping, C&R Tractor for landscaping, and Seawest Construction for fence work.

Scarsella crews have completed much of the work for the north end of the project, including: installing drainage, CSBC, and the paving of a new SB alignment that connects to the Blakeslee Junction Bridge that was built during the first phase of the project.

“We moved the SB traffic off of the existing alignment and onto the new,” said Kress. “Now we are in the process of placing the cast-in-place barrier, extending the drainage across, placing the CSBC and paving. This will allow us to move NB traffic onto the SB side temporarily. Then we will demolish the two existing bridges and build the new NB Bridge and alignment at Blakeslee Junction. Once that is done we will move all the traffic onto the new NB and correct the vertical alignment on the SB side south of the Blakeslee Bridge. Then everyone goes back to their own side.”

The last part of the project will be the improvements to Harrison Avenue, which should start in June 2015.

Equipment on Site

In addition to the equipment already mentioned, Scarsella will have a sizeable fleet of vehicles and equipment on site, including excavators in size from mini to 1100, loaders from IT28 to 988, dozers from 450JD to D9R, blades from 140H to 16H, rubber tired dozers — 824C, rollers of various sizes, 25 belly dumps, 10 truck and pups, eight side dumps, and a couple of water trucks.

Scarsella mostly uses Caterpillar, John Deere, and Komatsu vehicles and equipment, but also uses several other brands.

“We have mostly Mack trucks,” said Kress, “and we also use Ford pickups and flatbeds. We also rent various pieces of equipment when our need for equipment exceeds our supply. We try to use the local rental outfits like Cat Rental Store, Tyler Rental, United Rental, etc. We added some new pieces that we purchased from various companies. We have a yard that we acquired on the last project just north of this project in Grandmound that we use to stage our trucks, equipment and supplies. We also have an office at that site and run our mechanics and oilers from there.”

Don Scarsella, vice president (equipment logistics, purchasing and selling), said that equipment and vehicle needs are generally determined at the estimating stage.

“The estimating department made up of Bob Scarsella and Mason Dhanens develop production estimates based on available equipment within the Scarsella fleet,” he said. “Once the estimating team has visited the potential project they’re able to assess what types, sizes, and quantities of equipment will be most efficient. Bob will also assess what type of hauling operations will be most effective. Since most of the hauling at both Mellen Street and Rock Creek requires on-road hauling, dump trucks with pup trailers and belly dump trailers are heavily relied on. If the project offers a potential for off road hauling, Scarsella will try to employ the use of scrapers and/or articulated trucks.”

Asked if working on a multi-year project such as Mellen Street, is it difficult for the company to set aside this much equipment for just one project, Scarsella replied: “It is difficult to set aside the amount of equipment that is necessary for multi-year projects, but the more prevalent challenge in recent years has been acquiring enough work to keep Scarsella’s large fleet busy. We try to analyze the forecast of potential work and focus on what best suits Scarsella’s fleet and crews’ capabilities, but since the downturn in the economy in 2008, it has been extremely difficult because of the decrease in public works projects.”

The company tries to minimize equipment rentals.

“During the busy season,” said Scarsella, “we rent equipment when necessary. Scarsella attempts to mobilize and utilize company owned equipment first, but at times, renting is the efficient choice. Scarsella now has five shops, and has active projects in five different states, so it is definitely not as easy to transport equipment as it was when Scarsella’s projects were primarily in Washington State.”

Scarsella has three shops/yards in Washington State — Kent, Lind, and Spokane; one in Palmer, Alaska and another in Laurel, Mont.

Kress has three onsite mechanics at the Mellen Street site to look after the fleet, as well as two people looking after oil and fuel needs.

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