Small Washington Town Solves Big City Problem

Wed February 08, 2006 - West Edition
Dawn Weinberger

Daily traffic congestion is usually considered a problem for commuters in large metro areas, while residents of small cities in rural regions are used to speedy trips to work — with relatively few roadblocks along the way.

Not so in Yakima, WA, a town in the heart of the state’s apple-producing region with approximately 72,000 residents (the greater Yakima area boasts approximately 230,000).

With one of the area’s main thoroughfares carrying far more traffic than it was ever meant to, drivers trying to cross the Yakima River on State Route 24 between Riverside Road and Interstate 82 were gridlocked.

The interchange, which currently handles approximately 19,000 cars each day, also had a high accident rate. The bridge itself, originally built in 1950, was eroding and at risk for catastrophic failure.

“The old one was inadequate,” said Project Engineer Paul Gonseth of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

But the problems will be a thing of the past by the end of this year, when a $50.5-million road construction project is complete.

Instead of congestion (state officials estimate five hours a day by 2020 without these improvements) drivers will enjoy additional lanes, as well as two new bridges — one over I-82 and the one over the Yakima River.

Specifically, two-lane State Route 24 will become a four-lane highway between I-82 and Riverside Road, and crews will improve the ramp terminals and add a bicycle/pedestrian path.

Structural Engineer Eric Shultz of Olympia, WA, designed the bridge, and Kerry Grant of Yakima provided the civil engineering services (both engineers are employed by WSDOT).

Constructed primarily by General Contractor Max J. Kuney Company, based in Spokane, WA, the project involves 14 key subcontractors, said Project Manager Tobin Smith, including Columbia Asphalt of Yakima, San-Francisco-based Malcolm Drilling and Central Pre-Mix Prestress of Spokane.

And while standard issue Washington rain occasionally slows workers down, it hasn’t caused many challenges — unlike some of the project materials themselves.

The toughest part so far: transporting the girders (22 U28G5 girders and 117 W83G girders) some 70 mi. from the Tri-Cities manufacturer. Some were 7-ft. (2.1 m) deep and 178-ft. (54.3 m) long, weighing in at 200,000 lb. (90,718 kg).

“We had to shut down State Route 24, and it was to the point where [he driver] was getting very close to the guard rails and light poles,” Smith said, adding that the challenge continued upon arrival. “It takes a pretty large crane, 140 to 150 tons. It’s pretty much all we could to get them off and set them in place.”

Installing the workbridge also was a challenge, Smith said — and not because of the task itself.

“It isn’t anything we haven’t done before, but it is difficult to work in the water because of the environmental laws,” he said.

The project is part of the WSDOT Transportation Permit Efficiency and Accountability Committee Pilot Project, which strives to “streamline the environmental permitting process for transportation projects.”

This means the government, in partnering with the general contractor, is committed to keeping the environmental impact to the state ecosystem at a minimum.

After the project is complete, the state will spend 10 years watching for any waste water treatment outfall caused by the new bridge. Repairs will be funded by the city, state and any others organization deemed responsible.

Currently, crews are working on driving bubble curtains, which will break up the sound waves that can be problematic to fish (sound waves from loud construction activity can actually rupture their swim bladders), allowing for a friendly relationship between the fish, their advocates, and the construction crew.

“The state has set up a monitoring system downstream to make sure we stay within the required decibels,” Smith said.

Because the endeavor includes two bridges and several road improvements, crews on each portion of the project are working in stages.

First is the I-82 bridge. The U28G5 tub girder (22 total) bridge includes 2 spans, each 79-ft. (24 m) long.

After the first two lanes are complete (probably sometime in April), traffic will be re-directed to the new section and demolition experts from Stanton Companies will destroy the old bridge.

Once lanes three and four are finished, the two sections will be tied together with a closure pour.

The much-larger Yakima River Bridge features a total of nine spans — two measure 150 ft. (46.7 m) each, with seven at 181-ft. (55.2 m) each (each span uses 13 girders for a total of 117 W83G), including the aforementioned 200,000-pounders.

The bridge substructure features two spread-footing abutments and eight piers with three drill shafts each.

The two bridges use a total of 6,800 cu. yd. (5,199 cu m) of concrete, 6,000 cu. yd. (4,587 cu m) of superstructure concrete, 700 tons of substructure reinforcing steel and 760 tons of superstructure reinforcing steel.

Max J. Kuney crew members are using three Link-Belt cranes to complete the project: a 238B (a 140-ton truck crane), a 238H (a 250-ton track crane) and the 8040 (a 40-ton hydro-crane).

They also are using an Ice 60S pile hammer. Used for installation of the workbridge, this piece of equipment runs on bio-diesel. Max J. Kuney has been using this alternative fuel since 1995, Smith said.

“It doesn’t put out as much smoke and fuel if it were to spill, and it has been tested and won’t kill fish,” he added, explaining that using this kind of cutting-edge fuel and equipment allows the company to work in (environmentally sensitive) areas they couldn’t work in otherwise.

The project is funded by a combination of taxes and other funds allocated by the legislature — most of the more than $50 million in funding, to the tune of $36.2 million, came from Washington’s 2003 gas tax, referred to as the “nickel package.” Max J. Kuney’s contract eats up $34 million of the funds.

Gonseth said area residents are overwhelmingly supportive of the much-needed improvements.

“During local fairs, the DOT has a booth that displays our upcoming projects. On the days I worked, I received a lot of positive feedback that this project was [desperately] needed, mainly because of the congestion,” he said. CEG

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