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Work Progresses on San Diego County’s Route 76 Widening Project, Migration Site

The $76 million project will convert 5.2 mi. of road from two lanes to four lanes.

Fri October 02, 2015 - West Edition
Irwin Rapoport

The upgrade and widening of state Route 76 (an east-west highway) in California’s San Diego County, continues with the second installment of work on the east segment by Ames Construction Inc. The $76 million project will convert 5.2 mi. (8.36 km) of road from two lanes to four lanes.

The first phase of the east work, the construction of the SR 76/I-15 interchange, began in October 2012, and was completed in summer 2013, by Flatiron Construction. Phase 2 of the project is to widen and realign the roadway from South Mission Road to SR 76/I-15 Interchange. This phase began in November 2014, and should be completed in August 2017.

“This is the last of the projects on this major link between Interstate 5 and I-15 and will complete one of the high-priority transportation projects included in the region’s TransNet Early Action Program,” stated a Caltrans fact sheet for the project. “Once completed, the new four-lane highway will be a key transportation asset to help meet future travel demand. The current traffic volume on SR 76 between South Mission Road and I-15 is approximately 20,000 average daily trips. Planned growth will increase the traffic volume to approximately 46,000 average daily trips by the year 2030.”

The East Segment is expected to cost $201 million, with funding from the federal government, TransNet, a developer, the county of San Diego Transportation Impact Fee and Tribal contributions.

Karen Jewel, Caltrans SR 76 east segment project manager, has been with project since 2014.

“This project will realign curves to improve line of sight and stopping distances, construct a median barrier to separate the two directions of traffic, and provide 10 foot shoulders for both directions,” she said. “It also includes improving the SR 76/I-15 interchange and expanding the Park & Ride facility located next to it.”

Utility work is an integral part of this project, with three major water supply pipes crossing the SR 76 alignment.

“To ensure the project had no impact on these pipes, the San Diego County Water Authority relined them through the roadway corridor, and the project will be constructing a bridge over them,” said Jewel. “Other sewer and water lines have to be relocated or new ones placed before the roadway work can begin in some areas. This utility work, along with maintaining driveway access, requires close communications and coordination with residents and businesses in the area.

“Another level of communication that is important is the dialogue between Ames, the Caltrans inspectors and the resident engineer,” she added. “Communications occur daily. Ongoing communication is necessary in order to keep the project moving smoothly and provide the opportunity to deal with unexpected issues as they arise. This project is a great example of how a roadway project can enhance the environment and work closely with the residents to construct a safer roadway for the travelling public and preserve the wildlife in the corridor.”

Ames Construction has worked on many Caltrans projects.

“It’s predominantly road work,” said Curt Scanlan, Ames’ project manager, “which has about 1.2 million yards of roadway excavation, along with some rock excavation; 5.2 miles of storm drain work, which is typically box culverts; and two bridges. The new bridges are small–one over an existing creek–a 150 foot span, and the other is a precast girder bridge, a 145 foot span over the San Diego County Water Authority water lines that feed San Diego County–a 96- inch waterline, a 90-inch line, and a 72-inch waterline.”

The creek is seasonal and the bridge is being built during dry season.

“We will finish the deep foundation work for the bridges by October 1, 2015,” said Scanlan, who noted that some infrastructure work has to be done prior to starting the roadwork. “It’s an extensive project with all the storm drains, box culverts and the bridges. We also have a couple of miles of moderately deep 18-inch sewer lines and 24-inch water lines. There is also the placing of 150,000 tons of asphalt–the final roadway will be asphalt concrete–black paving.

“There also is an extensive planting project. One of the features is a 70-acre mitigation site where our roadway excavation comes from,” he added. “Caltrans and these agencies use land and acquire right-of-way. This area will be heavily planted and restored for wildlife and different indigenous species to the area. This element of the work will cost between $9 and $10 million.”

Local traffic will not be a major problem for Ames crews as nearly 65 percent of the roadwork is for new alignment.

“Because the current road is so twisty and has lots of curves, new sections of straight road are being built,” said Scanlan. “We’re building a new fill adjacent to and out into the existing Sandby River where a lot of our embankment is being placed. It’s a very big drainage basin, which flows into the Pacific Ocean.

“Essentially we build a piece of embankment, put traffic on it and then we do the inside widening,” he added. “Then it’s over to the existing roadwork where we remove and replace it and tie it into the new alignment. This allows traffic to flow and lets us do our work safely.”

The removal of 650,000 cu. yds. (496,961 cu m) of clean sand from the 70-acre (28.33 ha) mitigation site and setting up the embankments has not been easy.

“The sand is hard to move and we’re using on-road double-belly trucks to move the dirt,” said Scanlan. “We have a 185,000-pound John Deere 9 cubic yard excavator and the material is being placed in the double-belly trucks. We also have been able to pre-water the sand and employ other measures to keep the sand placed efficiently in the fill.

“So far we have excavated about 250,000 yards of earthwork and we’re installing the first two miles of embankments and roadwork, along with the drainage,” he added. “We’ll be putting in the first traffic switch in the next couple of months, as well as paving the first phase of the roadwork.”

The boxes for the new drainage system are being cast-in-place.

“Some of them are quite large, including triple-barrel boxes that are eight to nine feet deep and 40 feet wide,” said Scanlan. “We built them in place with our carpenters.”

The CIDH drillholes for the bridges were completed in August for the bridge over the creek.

“We’re starting the substructure work and a similar foundation for the second bridge,” said Scanlan. “We expect to complete both of them in the next nine months. The wet hole substructure CIDH is challenging work and Hayward Baker is providing that work with good results. Ames has completed similar bridges of this type throughout the country.”

So far the year-round project is based on single shifts, with 45 Ames employees and 20 subcontractors on site daily. The major subcontractors consist of Hayward Baker for CIDH; Integrity Rebar, for reinforcing steel, rock structures and rock slope protection; Perry Electric for electrical; RJ Noble for asphalt paving; and Marina landscape for landscape and irrigation.

“We have a really good relationship with Caltrans and we have a good project team on site,” said Scanlan, “We definitely have a ’project first’ mentality here and this translates into a high production atmosphere and clear communications with Caltrans, so that we can identify and solve problems in real time. And the work is progressing well. It’s an environmentally sensitive area and Caltrans had to go through a lot of hurdles in the last 10 years to clear the last piece of right-of-way for this construction project.

“We have an experienced environmental team and a good team overall and with Caltrans,” he added, “we were able to get through what could have been some tough environmental issues on the project start up.”

When California voters approved the TransNet Extension Ordinance in November 2004, they gave their consent for the Environmental Mitigation Program that is providing $850 million to protect, preserve and restore habitats near the region’s most significant transportation infrastructure, including the SR 76.

“Over $80 million in EMP funds have been invested along the SR 76 corridor to purchase 1,600 acres of property,” stated a project press release. “This property supports habitat conservation and the San Luis Rey River Park Master Plan in this corridor. Restoration efforts include preserving land as natural habitat, protecting endangered wildlife or native plant species (such as the Least Bell’s Vireo or coastal sage scrub), recontouring the San Luis Rey River to improve water flow and replanting native plants

Permanent animal crossings underneath the highway are being constructed to facilitate safe wildlife movement through the river corridor, as well as directional fencing.

“The San Luis Rey River is adjacent to SR-76 and Caltrans looked to enhance design features to better fit in with the environment,” said Jewel. “For example, several culverts under the roadway were increased in size to facilitate wildlife movement through the corridor. Caltrans has seen success with animals using these crossings installed in previous projects along SR 76. Animal escape ramps will be constructed in areas where driveways intersect with wildlife fencing, a first for Caltrans in San Diego.”

She also describes the biofiltration strips that will be constructed to improve the water quality.

“Roadway runoff will be filtered prior to entering the river environment,” she said. “Large areas of the river valley are being restored and revegetated to create and enhance native upland and wetland habitats as part of the project’s permit requirements. All of these efforts have been in coordination with the county of San Diego to support the San Luis Rey River Park plans.”

Asked how the run-off from SR 76 affects the San Luis Rey River, Jewel replied, “In order to mitigate erosion and storm water pollution, bioswales along the roadway will filter out silt and pollution and remove it from surface runoff. We are utilizing them to the maximum extent possible, and existing offsite drainage systems are being upgraded, cleaned or replaced as needed.”

Ames’ closest construction yard is 55 mi. (88.5) away in Corona, Calif., and due to distance and being in a rural area, Scanlan has Kevin Huddleston, the on-site mechanic and oiler, who is also responsible for fueling the vehicles.

“We are a self-sufficient operation,” Scanlan said. “Concerning construction materials and so forth, we have various vendors in the North San Diego County area to supply us with construction products, road-base and similar items,. In terms of equipment, we coordinate with our equipment department. We’ve had equipment come in from different parts of the country.

“We bring in mechanical help as needed and it’s a team effort,” he added. “It’s very busy and we have an excellent mechanic in Kevin, who’s handling fuel, lube and repair work. The everyday repair issues are typically minor–a blown hose, tire punctures, etc., but for the most part, the equipment has been pretty stable.”

Among the equipment being employed are Cat 623 scrapers and Cat 14H blades (one equipped with GPS).

Each piece of equipment has a logbook, where information is logged from daily walks and checks, and the mechanic depends upon operators informing him on the state of their vehicles.

“It’s a really important dynamic and we have a great team of operators who communicate with us daily and take great care of their equipment,” said Scanlan, “I’ve done similar projects, but every project is different. The constant is having a solid team that is prepared for anything. Ames has really built their company over the past 50 years via a ’real team’ approach and one of the strengths of the company is the assistance provided to the staff. We do this via training, a stress on safety, and communication.”

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