More than a month after the southbound Gee Creek Rest Area closed for a complete rebuild, there’s no sign of the old facility at the popular Interstate 5 pit stop.
There’s no sign of the new facility, either. That’s because the new buildings are being constructed hundreds of miles away in Spokane. By the time they’re trucked to Clark County in November, the premade structures will be all but finished.
“They just set them with the crane, tie them in and turn on the lights,” said Rick Haight, a foreman with Longview-based contractor Five Rivers Construction.
Everything from the lights and hand-dryers to the baby changing stations will be included when the buildings arrive, Haight said.
“All the fixtures are in there,” he said, noting the off-site approach also saves time and money.
The Washington State Department of Transportation operates dozens of aging rest areas, many of which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, said spokesman Bart Treece. The $1.1 million rebuild of the southbound Gee Creek Rest Area will expand the facility from one building to two, and from eight toilets to 14, he said.
“This will hopefully set us up for years to come,” Treece said.
The upgrade also means maintenance will be easier on visitors, Treece said. When the rest area was a single building, maintenance work often meant closing the site or hauling in portable toilets. Now, the transportation department can keep one building open while crews work on the other. The rest area sees about 800,000 visitors annually, according to the transportation department — a figure calculated by the number of toilet flushes.
The southbound Gee Creek Rest Area is located between state highways 501 and 502 on I-5. The northbound rest area, located at state Highway 502, is unaffected by the work. No upgrade is currently planned for that site, Treece said.
At the southbound site, workers are readying the grounds for the arrival of the new buildings. Flat foundations already mark the footprints of the two structures.
Utility work, sidewalk construction and other preparations are ongoing. Crews also removed a Washington State Patrol trooper memorial, which will be cleaned and reinstalled when the project is complete, Haight said.
The Gee Creek stop — the last rest area on southbound I-5 in Washington — has been closed since Sept. 8. Until it opens again, motorists traveling south will either have to stop somewhere in the Portland-Vancouver area, use the northbound Gee Creek Rest Area, or wait until the next one near Wilsonville, Ore.
WSDOT hopes to have the new southbound Gee Creek facility ready by Thanksgiving.