By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Crews broke ground Jan. 7 in the first phase of a long-awaited state Department of Transportation project to widen a 3.5-mile stretch of the highway between Kitchen-Dick and Shore roads to make it four-lane between Port Angeles and western Sequim.
A Kent contractor removed trees, stumps and brush to make room for a wider bridge to be built this summer just south of the existing span.
The 1939 timber trestle will be knocked out and replaced in 2014.
“They've cleared the site to build the first bridge,” said Jerry Moore, Port Angeles-based project manager for the state Department of Transportation. “They're building an access road to do the drill shafts.”
The bridges are key components in the $60 million project to give motorists two lanes of travel in each direction for the entire commute between Clallam County's largest cities.
The cost includes right-of-way acquisition, design and construction.
The project is scheduled to be finished in October 2014, although landscaping might lag into early 2015, Moore said in an interview.
Transportation awarded a $27.1 million construction bid to Scarsella Bros. Inc. — the same company that built the Sequim bypass that opened in 1999 — in November.
The Kent-based contractor's bid fell nearly $6.9 million below the engineer's estimate.
“Everything is going very smoothly right now,” Moore said of the early phase of the project.
Crews are also clearing vegetation on the north side of the highway for future stormwater-retention ponds.
After the drill shafts are in place, crews will build four piers that will support the bridge structure. The two piers closest to the creek at the bottom of the ravine will have two columns each.
The bridge will begin to take shape when the girders are placed on top of the pier caps.
“We've got quite a bit of work to do,” Moore said.
“The goal is to have this bridge complete by the end of summer.
“That's what we're shooting for.”
Meanwhile, clearing and grubbing, or the digging out, for the new lanes will commence April 1.
“All summer long, we'll be doing earthwork, drainage and trying to get the lanes built,” Moore said.
For the most part, the new lanes will be on the south side of the existing highway. The new alignment will flip to the north side of the existing highway near Pierson and Dryke roads on the east side of the project area.
“After April, you're going to see a lot of grubbing, particularly on the south side,” Moore said.
“They're going to start moving dirt. And there's just all kinds of activities — putting in drainage and irrigation.”
Traffic will be separated by a 32-foot-wide grass median to reduce the chances of head-on collisions.
Left turns from the Clallam County roads that intersect the highway will be restricted. Motorists will instead turn right and use one of six U-turn exits.
While nighttime lane closures are possible during construction of the new lanes, no daytime closures are planned.
Motorists will “be able to sail right on through” at the current 55 mph speed limit because most of the work is off to the side, Moore said.
Short-term closures of several Clallam County roads are planned for this summer to allow the state to regrade their intersections to meet the new level of the highway.
The state project includes a pedestrian tunnel for Clallam Transit passengers at East Owl Creek near Kitchen-Dick Road.
The widening project is one of two that commuters will notice in 2013 and 2014.
Later this year, Clallam County will break ground on a new highway underpass to eliminate left turns from Deer Park Road and Buchanan Drive east of Port Angeles.
The county will build a two-lane road with a bicycle path that circles behind the Deer Park Cinema and goes under U.S. Highway 101.
The new road will tie into Buchanan Drive behind C'est Si Bon restaurant on the north side of the highway just east of the Morse Creek “S” curve.
Federal funds will cover most of the $7 million county project.
During construction of the underpass, highway traffic will be moved onto a temporary surface on an adjacent state lot.
Highway 101 will reclaim its existing alignment and grade after the underpass is finished late this year or in early 2014, county officials have said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.