Emergency repairs slow I-5, Highway 14 traffic

Flurry of construction projects, bad weather spur quick action

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Persistently uncooperative weather and a busy construction slate led to three simultaneous emergency road repairs in Southwest Washington on Tuesday, slowing and diverting traffic during the afternoon commute.

First came the Washington State Department of Transportation announcement that two sections of Interstate 5 would need immediate work. Emergency repairs put crews on the southbound side of the freeway near Woodland, and a separate job reduced northbound I-5 to a single lane at the busy Salmon Creek Interchange. A short time later, WSDOT briefly closed westbound state Highway 14 because of a “void” that had opened under the road. Drivers there were detoured through Camas.

So what happened?

At Salmon Creek, crews are continuing to work on the $133 million Salmon Creek Interchange Project where I-5 converges with Interstate 205. Construction there has diverted traffic outward, pushing cars onto what was the right shoulder of the freeway. But that created a problem when concrete began to break apart near a catch basin on the freeway, said WSDOT spokeswoman Abbi Russell.

“The shoulder isn’t meant to carry that volume of traffic for that long,” she said.

Crews made repairs to the trouble spot, which hopefully will last through the winter while traffic is diverted, Russell said.

Near Woodland, I-5 work has the freeway ground down while crews wait for good enough weather to repave it. But that hasn’t happened yet, and the short asphalt transitions between grades began coming apart and creating a danger to drivers, Russell said. Tuesday’s emergency fix took care of it. Crews planned to lay down permanent pavement — weather permitting — Wednesday night, Russell said.

Void filled

The last emergency repair closed the entire westbound side of state Highway 14 near the East Camas Slough Bridge. Crews are expanding the highway to four lanes, and are in the process of excavation work that will eventually lay the foundation for a second bridge alongside the existing span.

When crews discovered a “void” and shifting, sandy ground under the highway near the bridge, WSDOT closed the westbound lanes and filled the void with concrete, Russell said. The closure began after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and was reopened before 6 p.m. — “a lot earlier than we expected,” Russell said.

The fixes and closures are a symptom of a busy construction season that’s been hampered by less-than-ideal weather in 2011, Russell said. After a wet, cool spring, nice summer weather was abruptly halted by the arrival of fall rain recently, with road crews still active.

“A lot of our work is weather dependent,” Russell said. “It’s been a challenge this year.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; www.twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.