Two local highway projects shift gear

Ramped-up work will affect drivers onstate routes 14, 500

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Expect to see some heavy lifting near two different state highways this week as two major Clark County road projects pick up steam, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Crews will begin installing large girders at both state Highway 14, where WSDOT is in the midst of a widening project through Camas and Washougal, and along state Highway 500, where a new interchange is taking shape at St. Johns Boulevard.

The work will be highly visible to drivers passing through either corridor, and at least some delays are likely. But that doesn’t mean the outcomes — or the process — will share much else in common, said WSDOT spokeswoman Heidi Sause.

“The type of work that’s taking place on both projects this week, there’s a lot of difference between them,” Sause said.

On Highway 14, crews on Wednesday will start installing 12 girders — long, heavy-duty support structures — as part of a new bridge going up just north of the East Camas Slough Bridge. That will reduce the existing span to one lane on Wednesday and Thursday night between 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. Drivers can expect delays of up to 20 minutes during that time, according to WSDOT.

“No different than what it has been,” project engineer Chris Tams said. “Just in a different location.”

Crews will use the existing bridge to move the girders — more than 100 feet long — to the project site before lifting them to the new span by crane, Tams said. The operation will get slightly more complicated this weekend, when workers place final girders under high-voltage power lines. WSDOT plans to tackle that portion during daylight hours between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, again leading to intermittent lane closures and delays.

The new bridge will eventually carry westbound traffic along Highway 14, widening the corridor from two to four lanes. The entire $50 million widening project, expanding the highway from the West Camas Slough Bridge to Sixth Street in Washougal, is scheduled to be finished in late 2012.

On Highway 500, girder installation won’t have as direct an impact to traffic. The cramped intersection at St. Johns will stay largely as it has since construction activity increased late last year.

But for drivers passing through, the installation of four steel girders measuring as long as 250 feet will be hard to miss.

“It’s going to essentially look like a steel wall on the side of the highway,” Sause said. “And that can be distracting.”

Vancouver manufacturer Thompson Metal Fab made the girders for the Highway 500 project. They’ll form the “backbone” of two interchange ramps that will eventually connect the highway to an elevated St. Johns Boulevard, according to WSDOT.

The $48 million Highway 500 project aims to reduce congestion at St. Johns by removing a traffic signal there, and transforming the intersection into a freeway-style interchange. Once finished, St. Johns will travel up and over the highway on a new bridge. The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.

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