Snoqualmie Pass Roadwork Underway
Max J. Kuney Construction, Spokane, will be the primary contractor for the next phase of safety improvements along Interstate 90, between Hyak and the Keechelus Dam.
Kuney submitted the low bid of $76 million, which was 30% under estimates by the state Dept. of Transportation’s engineer.
The project starts just east of Snoqualmie Pass, notorious for delays caused by avalanches and closures for routine snow maintenance during the winter months. Though the pass is only 3,022 ft high, much of its precipitation falls as snow.
Thirty-five million tons of freight cargo, or $500 billion worth of goods, crosses it every year. Abut 27,000 vehicles use the road on weekdays and 50,000 vehicles drive over on weekends. This particular stretch of roadway skirts Keechelus Lake and hugs the mountainside.
Much of the project is routine highway construction. Kuney will be adding a lane in each direction, widening the shoulders and straightening curves. The company would not comment on the project, which also calls for new bridges, which will partially be erected along the shores of Keechelus Lake, a manmade irrigation dam.
“Kuney is mostly a bridge contractor, and these are standard precast and prestressed DOT bridges,” says Randy Giles, WSDOT project manager. “They do have some deep foundations around the shores of the lake.”
The 22 bridge foundation shafts will be about 100 ft deep and 9 ft wide.
Kuney will have to schedule its work around varying lake levels as water is drawn down for irrigation in one of Washington’s prime agricultural areas, the Yakima Valley.
“Weather could be a major factor in this phase of the project,” Giles says.
A trickier aspect will be excavating the rock on the mountainside during the slope stabilization process west of the lake.
“We’re allowing Kuney to close the road at dusk for 45 minutes at a time for blasting,” Giles says. “They can have several lanes closed until dawn to move all the muck out of the way.”
The rock will be blasted in 24-ft-high sections, starting at the top of the slope. Then steel dowel bars and bolts are drilled into the side of the mountain to hold the slope in place. Some are of the bars are tensioned, adding to the overall stability.
One of the dangers is that crews may run into formations not discovered in the geotechnical tests. “If more rock falls than we planned for, we have all night to clean it up,” says Will Smith, DOT project engineer. “And the blasts will be planned so the rocks fall away from the freeway.”
Geotechnical sensors will measure if the slope is moving between blasts to determine if blasts have to be readjusted. The rock will be processed close by and be incorporated on other parts of the project.
Because the project runs through U.S. Forest Service property, all DOT construction must meet its standards for wildlife protection. The project will include substantial wetland restoration, stream habitat improvements and connections between both sides of the interstate for wildlife to pass safely.
Biologists will study the success of the wildlife program for several years with motion-activated cameras and snow-tracking.
“Stormwater protection is also a significant part of the project,” Smith says. “The contractor has a lot of rules to follow to protect the fish and birds in the stream corridors.”
The project will take 3.5 years to complete due to the short construction window on I-90 Snoqualmie Pass. The estimated completion date is fall 2013.
During construction, WSDOT has committed to keeping two travel lanes open in each direction during peak travel times, but drivers may experience single-lane closures during off-peak hours.
WSDOT will advertise the third construction contract on the remaining two miles of the I-90 project from the snowshed to Keechelus Dam in the fall. The contract is estimated to cost more than $200 million.
General Contractor: Max J. Kuney Construction
Visit the project’s website at www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I90/SnoqualmiePassEast