By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — Dirt is flying fast and furiously along U.S. Highway 101 near Deer Park Road.
A contractor for Clallam County is moving earth for what will become a county underpass east of Port Angeles next summer.
The long-awaited safety improvement will eliminate the left turns across the four-lane highway from Deer Park Road and Buchanan Drive.
The county in June awarded a $4.8 million construction contract to Scarsella Brothers Inc. — the same Kent-based contractor that is widening the highway west of Sequim and replacing Lauridsen Boulevard bridge in Port Angeles — to build the underpass and a two-lane county road called Deer Park Loop.
“Right now, the operation is excavation,” Assistant County Engineer Joe Donisi said.
“Basically, it's just 'keep digging' for another couple months or so. Then, we'll be getting ready to do the bypass.”
Scarsella Brothers is pre-casting in Auburn segments of a concrete arch that will be used for the underpass structure.
Once the precast arch tunnel is ready to install, U.S. Highway 101 will be diverted onto a temporary road on a vacant lot just south of the existing highway for up to 90 days.
“Hopefully it's less, but that's what they're allowed,” Donisi said.
The temporary detour likely will begin in November.
Crews will reclaim the existing grade and alignment of Highway 101 once the underpass is installed.
“Most of the job is kind of offline,” Donisi said.
“Other than the three-month bypass, most of the other stuff is kind of a brand-new road.”
About 80 percent of the project is federally funded. The rest comes from the state and county real estate excise taxes.
Clallam County has an on-site inspector overseeing construction.
The county is working closely with the state Department of Transportation on elements of the project that impact the highway.
Deer Park Loop will begin at Deer Park Road and make a sweeping right turn behind Deer Park Cinema.
It will dip below the highway, loop around the back of C'est Si Bon restaurant, crosscut Cedar Park Drive and merge with Buchanan Drive.
Motorists driving west on Highway 101 will have a new acceleration lane on which to merge with the posted 45 mph traffic.
Deer Park Loop will have a 10-foot-wide sidewalk for pedestrians and bicyclists, with easy access to the Olympic Discovery Trail on the north side of the highway.
The scenic overlook on the north side of the highway also will be upgraded.
C'est Si Bon restaurant co-owner Norbert Juhasz said the construction has been “a real eyesore” since crews broke ground in late July.
“They've already destroyed some trees,” Juhasz said. “They were so beautiful. They've been here longer than I am.”
Juhasz said he is hopeful his customers will come to appreciate the underpass once it is finished.
The French restaurant at 23 Cedar Park Drive remains open for business during construction, with its usual access from Buchanan Drive.
County transportation planners have been trying to fund the Deer Park project since 1998.
There were four fatalities and numerous wrecks along the highway at Deer Park Road and Buchanan Drive between 2001 and 2009.
An earlier plan to build an overpass rather than an underpass was scrapped because of costs and aesthetic impacts.
A stoplight option was pulled over concerns about backups on Morse Creek hill.
Donisi said Deer Park Loop should be open to motorists by the end of June.
“That's assuming there's no down time,” he added.
“There are a lot of little items after the big stuff, but they all add up.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.