Highway 14 project shifting gears

Traffic will be moved off of frontage road and back onto mainline roadway next month

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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As construction crews continue to transform state Highway 14 in Camas and Washougal, drivers can soon expect to see the area from a new vantage point.

Workers plan to shift traffic back onto the mainline highway by the middle of next month, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. That will put motorists on a new, raised roadway that passes over Union and Second streets. It will also take them off the frontage road that's carried highway traffic through two roundabouts since early this year.

The shift won't mean work is finished on the new highway surface. Crews under lead contractor Tapani Underground Inc. still have a large amount of asphalt to lay down, WSDOT area engineer Chris Tams said last week. Workers are racing to get as much done as they can this fall — while weather allows — but the process will continue in 2013, he said.

"We just ran out of time to get all of that paving done this year," Tams said.

The work is part of a $50 million effort to expand Highway 14 to four lanes from the end of — but not including — the West Camas Slough Bridge to Sixth Street in Washougal. The project aims to improve safety and traffic flow in a typically crowded area.

Near the Camas-Washougal boundary, the basic foundation of the elevated highway setup is already in place. Workers last week finished building the support walls made up of some 75,000 individual blocks, Tams said — each weighing about 80 pounds, and each placed manually.

"That's a lot of lifting," he said.

WSDOT has used the same type of block wall in other projects, Tams said, but the scale of this project puts it in a different category.

"This one is by far the largest we've done in a long time," Tams said. "There's essentially a mile of wall on both sides of the roadway."

Farther west, drivers on the West Camas Slough Bridge have navigated a pair of narrow lanes recently so crews have enough breathing room to work in the bridge's median. Workers will install a median barrier to better separate vehicles traveling in opposite directions and prevent head-on collisions. At the East Camas Slough Bridge, a second span will add two extra lanes.

Dry weather should linger a while longer, and crews will take full advantage before the forecast inevitably turns wet, Tams said. Even after the traffic shift, drivers should expect to see plenty still happening at the site, said WSDOT spokeswoman Abbi Russell. The entire project is expected to wrap up next year.

"Complete to drivers and complete to us are two different things," Russell said. "We still have some work to do."

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