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Rugged Terrain Makes Project a Challenge

Wed May 29, 2024 - West Edition #11
Irwin Rapoport – CEG Correspondent

A safety project in central California resumed in June as construction crews from Granite are working to widening the embankment and 
shoulders on U.S. 395 in 
Mono County.
Photo courtesy of Granite Construction
A safety project in central California resumed in June as construction crews from Granite are working to widening the embankment and shoulders on U.S. 395 in Mono County.
A safety project in central California resumed in June as construction crews from Granite are working to widening the embankment and 
shoulders on U.S. 395 in 
Mono County.   (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction) Shoulders were widened 10 ft. on average with a 2:1 fill slope down to the catch point.   (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction) The remaining work will focus on the final drainage system work, the shoulder roadway structural section excavation and laying the hot mix asphalt.   (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction) The groundwater is significantly higher than expected, which posed an unexpected challenge for the contractor. Many pumps had to be placed in well points to run continuously to collect/distribute while performing the work.   (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction) Granite is on target to finish on schedule in August this year.   (Photo courtesy of Granite Construction)

California's Mono County, in the central part of the state, adjacent to Nevada, has the smallest county population and being in a rural and isolated area, roadwork can be difficult for general contractors.

For one of those general contractors — Granite Construction — work resumed on a safety project along U.S. 395, where crews are widening the embankment and shoulders on the highway. The nature of this project along rugged terrain makes it a challenging one, particularly with its emphasis on earth work and utilization of heavy equipment such as excavators, dozers, skid-steers, loaders and graders.

Photo courtesy of Granite Construction

And to make matters more challenging, the section of U.S. 395 — one lane in each direction with shoulders on either side — makes it a tight work zone, but the experienced Granite Construction crews are up for the endeavor.

"The plan was to create a firm base at the bottom of the slope with access points at the beginning and end for our heavy equipment to place and compact," said Chris Killen, a Granite communications and marketing manager. "We also needed the area to be accessible for the trucks to be able to dump material without the worry of getting stuck.

"Shoulders were widened 10 feet on average with a 2:1 fill slope down to the catch point," added Killen, who pointed out that safety was a priority when working along steep slopes. "Creating a shoulder widened area is very technical with lots of safety implemented. Our operators are skilled and undergo training along with daily safety meetings to ensure that they place the machines where it is safe and stable to do so."

Contractor's Work

Granite secured the contract in January 2023, which gave it five months to plan the schedule, secure materials for the work season, send equipment to the site and secure billeting for the crews.

To date, Granite has completed the following:

  • Roadside clearing along with clearing and grubbing the slopes to be widened;
  • 11 drainage systems, which included the diversion of Wilson Creek and a refurbishment of the existing system;
  • A total of 41,950 tons of import borrow to widen the shoulders and wood mulch with hydroseed to protect the slope as permanent erosion control.

The remaining work will focus on the final drainage system work, the shoulder roadway structural section excavation, along with laying the hot mix asphalt, a roadway grinding and HMA overlay near Conway Ranch Road, a restripe of the entire project utilizing Methyl Methacrylate paint, establishing the electrical for roadside solar lights and the final touches of the plant establishment and erosion control.

Project Challenges

Granite crews are experiencing many challenges, but their experience ensures these hurdles can be overcome.

"Drainage systems is one of them, [such as] the detailed processes of the diversion system at Wilson Creek," said Killen. "The plans offered little detail on how the diversion should function and be workable around to perform the necessary repairs/rehabilitation of the original drainage system. Granite was able to have an engineer design a drawing that suspended the outlet of the diversion safely to allow workers underneath the flowing diversion pipe. The initial plans for the planned alignment had an incorrect alignment with the existing roadway. This required a substantial modification to the shoulder widening quantity along with a few sections that had a high water table. This posed a challenge to the operators along with the design team to find a suitable solution for a structurally sound subgrade.

"In order to complete the work for this project, there have been many days of flagging traffic control," he added. "This creates an issue among travelers along U.S. 395 with not ideal traffic queues. Maintaining the flow of traffic is a large part of Granite's day-to-day operation that keeps the public safe from potential exposures when reworking the drainage systems, large drop-offs for the shoulder work, and miscellaneous operations where equipment is traveling the site. This also protects the workers from the high-speed traffic along the 65 mph highway and allows for faster project completion time."

Killen noted that the progression of the project has been satisfactory.

"Granite is on target to finish on schedule in August this year," he said.

Water is also an issue.

Photo courtesy of Granite Construction

"The groundwater is significantly higher than expected," said Killen. "This caused issues when building the shoulders out with heavy equipment. We also experienced the groundwater while excavating the drainage headwalls. Many pumps had to be placed in well points to run continuously to collect/distribute while performing the work."

Space in the construction zone is limited, but efforts helped minimize this issue.

"Caltrans has been proactive in solving issues as they arise," said Killen. "There have been many minor changes that needed to be resolved in the field in order to progress the project."

The remote status of the project posed a major issue when coordinating with subcontractors and Granite employees to build the work.

"The majority of the crew would lodge in Mammoth, along with some renting an Airbnb in June Lake to host the weekly crew," said Killen.

Granite has a local material yard in Lee Vining and in Bishop.

"However," said Killen, "heavy equipment is generally shared throughout each project in the Bakersfield area. The process of requesting and mobilizing equipment up to the project site was very tedious and schedule intensive. For this project, the material is generated from our Lee Vining plant. Unless there are specific materials or requirements beyond the Caltrans standard provisions, our plant extracts, processes and provides all of the roadway material. Granite did utilize Mammoth Ready Mix and 711 Materials for the slurry backfill and structural concrete for the drainage systems. The roadway materials from our Lee Vining plant are roughly 20 minutes each direction and the drive time for ready mix can range from 40 minutes up to 1 hour and 45 minutes each direction."

Granite has utilized wide areas on the project to store equipment, materials and its temporary job-site office trailer for the upcoming work being performed.

"We allowed all subcontractors to also use our Lee Vining plant in the cases where large breaks in the schedule had occurred such as the winterization of the project," Killen explained.

Serious planning has ensured that each aspect of the work proceeds smoothly.

The work to create the half-mile extension of the northbound chain-up area will take place in July and August.

"The plan of attack is to excavate the trenches for the new electrical lighting along with pouring the foundations for the poles and cabinets," said Killen. "The challenges with electrical items are the lead times and approval processes associated with the material. We will be excavating the trenches after the shoulders are paved, which allows for a safer work environment and better progression of the schedule. The foundations will be poured for the poles and cabinets and final wiring will be pulled for connection. The last piece is having the controller turn on the power to complete the circuit."

The culvert work is ongoing.

The lighting will be the final piece of the project and is currently scheduled for mid- to late August..

The Granite management team includes Foreman Clyde Burget, Project Engineer Kyle Jameson and Project Manager Jeff Cox.

"The team dynamic is very driven, from planning/scheduling to execution," said Killen. "Granite includes everyone that is involved to have a say, with their experience, which allows for a better overall performance. The efforts of each crew is shown on the project. They are very productive and communicate very well with everyone about daily tasks, safety hazards and production."

On busy days there are close to 15 Granite and subcontractor personnel on-site, with the major subcontractors being Synergy Traffic Control; J&M Land Restoration for temporary and permanent erosion control; Specialized Pavement Markings; Premier Valley Transport and Conspec for the hauling of materials; Camblin Steel for the rebar in the headwalls; DMC Sweeping for project maintenance; ABSL for pavement grinding; and A.C Dike for paving/dike.

New materials include approximately 600 cu. yds. of concrete/slurry, 4,350 tons of asphalt and 16,400 lbs. of steel.

Granite has crews working on many projects in California, so ensuring that equipment is always ready is critical to meet deadlines.

"Granite utilizes an on-site mechanic for most repairs," said Killen, "but for those that are more severe, once the piece is mobilized back to Bakersfield, it will spend its time in the shop to be promptly repaired. Due to the nature of the remote location, preparation for the week is crucial ensuring that material needed for potential repairs are in hand or can be brought up at a moment's notice. Granite crews perform daily equipment inspections on all operated equipment. We have on-site mechanics available during higher risk operations [HMA for this project]." CEG

Irwin Rapoport

A journalist who started his career at a weekly community newspaper, Irwin Rapoport has written about construction and architecture for more than 15 years, as well as a variety of other subjects, such as recycling, environmental issues, business supply chains, property development, pulp and paper, agriculture, solar power and energy, and education. Getting the story right and illustrating the hard work and professionalism that goes into completing road, bridge, and building projects is important to him. A key element of his construction articles is to provide readers with an opportunity to see how general contractors and departments of transportation complete their projects and address challenges so that lessons learned can be shared with a wider audience.

Rapoport has a BA in History and a Minor in Political Science from Concordia University. His hobbies include hiking, birding, cycling, reading, going to concerts and plays, hanging out with friends and family, and architecture. He is keen to one day write an MA thesis on military and economic planning by the Great Powers prior to the start of the First World War.

Read more from Irwin Rapoport here.

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