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Wash.’s I-5 Receives $262.6 Million Face Lift

Mon February 19, 2007 - West Edition
Rebecca Ragain

Due to the Washington State Legislature and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), tourists planning to drive up the West Coast to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver will experience a smoother trip.

Since September 2005, crews have been working to expand Interstate Highway 5 through Everett, Wash. They are widening the freeway to add a new merge lane in both directions on I-5, between 41st Street and U.S. 2, with the goal of eliminating sudden lane changes along the corridor.

In addition, 6 mi. (9.7 km) of northbound carpool lanes are being built from Highway 526 to U.S. 2, and 4.6 mi. (7.4 km) of southbound carpool lanes from Marine View Drive to Highway 526. These HOV lanes should ease congestion both on I-5 and on the city streets of Everett nearest the freeway, resulting in fewer rear-end collisions.

The expansion also requires the widening or replacement of 23 bridges, and the construction of 10-ft. (3 m) shoulders to give motorists room to pull over in case of emergency.

At the rate the project is progressing, Everett-area drivers — who currently experience slow daily commutes to and from their jobs in Seattle — will be enjoying the finished improvements long before 2010.

State Legislature

Fast-Tracked Project

Mike Cotten, WSDOT’s project director, said that the freeway expansion is scheduled for completion in mid-2008, which is approximately three years earlier than initially expected.

The speedy progression could be attributed to funding prioritization and a streamlined design-build process.

“With conventional funding, we weren’t scheduled to complete this work until 2011 or later,” said Cotten.

However, looking ahead to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Washington State Legislature accelerated funding for the expansion through the state’s 2003 ($214 million) and 2005 ($42.8 million) gas tax monies.

Another influence on the state government’s decision to accelerate the improvements was a 2003 agreement with The Boeing Company, in which the commercial jetliner manufacturer selected Everett as the final assembly site for its new 787 Dreamliner.

WSDOT decided on a design-build contract, instead of a more traditional design-bid-build process because of the state’s desire for prompt completion of the I-5 expansion.

The contract, originally for $185 million, was awarded to Atkinson/CH2M Hill Joint Venture.

“We identified that design-build could deliver the project faster,” said Cotten. “And we have found that that has been the case, as we’ve gone through the design-build process.”

In December 2005, the Everett-area improvement contract was expanded by $35.5 million to include a new interchange at I-5 and 41st Street, also funded by the state legislature.

“It was a piece of work that was not originally in the project but is physically in the middle of the project that was under way,” Cotten explained. “Now we had this other interchange to fit in with phasing of the rest of the project … and we did it without adding any contract time.”

The design for the I-5/41st Street interchange called for creating a new, wider 41st Street bridge with a single point urban interchange (one set of signals) to control traffic. WSDOT crews added and widened ramps to and from northbound and southbound I-5.

To accommodate the late-stage inclusion of the interchange, Atkinson/CH2M Hill brought in a separate design team.

Well on the Way to Completion

In April 2006, the old 41st Street bridge was demolished.

Subcontractor Jeff Johnson Excavating did the job, using what Doles described as “rather unique equipment,” including both small and large-model Komatsu excavators with specialty attachments.

As of late January, the new bridge was “virtually complete,” said Doles. Concrete was being poured, and electrical work was nearly finished.

The exception was the ramps, the building of which was hindered by winter weather.

“Earthwork this time of year in the Puget Sound region is not a fun thing,” Doles commented.

To build the ramps, earth-work subcontractor KLB Construction relied on its standard fleet of Cat dozers, rollers and graders. One concession made to the weather, according to Doles, was the use of more imported rock, in lieu of native material.

Despite the challenging weather, Cotten indicated he hoped the new bridge would open by mid-March, along with three out of the four ramps.

Another major project milestone was the completion of the new Broadway Avenue exit in June 2006.

Prior to completion of the new exit, northbound drivers exited I-5 from the left, which was dangerous for out-of-town drivers who were surprised by the unusual configuration. Now, they can exit on the right, taking the new fly-over ramp above I-5 to Broadway Avenue.

Currently, crews are at work modifying the left-hand exit for buses, carpools and vanpools only. The carpool exit is scheduled to re-open mid-summer.

Environmental Improvement

As part of the Everett-area highway improvements, WSDOT purchased right of way to build six water quality treatment facilities to filter the dirty water that runs off 6.5 mi. (10.5 km) of interstate freeway.

The drainage ponds brought this section of I-5 up to modern environmental standards, improving habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

“It’s something we do on all projects when we’re rebuilding like this,” said Cotten.

KLB Construction did the drainage work, using Cat and Hitachi excavators.

The largest storm water collection area, located in Everett’s Lowell neighborhood, required an aqueduct to carry water from the freeway over the train tracks and into the water treatment site.

Doles said that it was a challenge to coordinate with Burlington Northern & Sante Fe Railway in order to build over the railroad tracks, but he believed that it was “ successfully accomplished.”

As another part of the environmental process for capacity projects such as this, WSDOT involved a noise mitigation department. In this case, the group decided that 3.5 mi. (5.6 km) of noise walls were needed.

Atkinson/CH2M Hill purchased the noise panels from EnCon Washington, which was enough noise wall square footage to use up its production capabilities for a full year, according to Doles.

Some sections of the noise wall were difficult to erect due to mature trees edging the site.

Along those portions, Atkinson/CH2M Hill used 250 and 180-ton (226.8 and 163 t) cranes from Sickle Steel Crane and Ness Cranes to reach over the tops of the trees and lift the noise panels into place.

“We made an effort to preserve as many of the trees as we could,” Doles commented.

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