Washington State Department of Transportation officials say they’re in the midst of a busy summer packed with repair projects and maintenance work on Southwest Washington roadways, and local motorists should try to stay on top of big upcoming projects and prepare to deal with occasional delays.
The region was lucky enough to make it through the late June heat wave without any significant roadway damage, according to WSDOT public information officer Kelly Hanahan, but the agency still has its hands full keeping up with maintenance work in Clark County and the surrounding counties.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in the amount of traffic on the roads, but it didn’t do anything to help WSDOT work through its maintenance backlog. State-level hiring freezes and furloughs for several months last year led to delays in design work on road projects and pauses in regular maintenance work — some of which was time-sensitive, such as paving work that can only be done in warm and dry weather conditions.
“If we can’t get out at a certain time, we miss the window,” said WSDOT public information officer Tamara Greenwell.
The pandemic also created ongoing global supply chain disruptions that can further delay roadwork, she said — like everyone else, WSDOT is faced with longer lead times to acquire materials for projects, particularly steel.
The two biggest local projects — and the ones most likely to cause traffic disruptions — are already underway. One project will replace some of the concrete panels beneath a stretch of southbound Interstate 5 at the north end of Clark County, and the other is aimed at updating the downtown Mill Plain corridor to better serve freight traffic.
A host of smaller-scale maintenance issues will keep crews busy for the rest of the summer. Greenwell urged drivers to sign up for email alerts or download the WSDOT mobile app to stay on top of any disruptions.
I-5 panel replacements
The first project is located on a 2-mile stretch of I-5 between the North Fork and East Fork Lewis River crossings, where many of the concrete panels are showing significant wear and tear.
“We can repair some of them, but a lot of times they need to be replaced,” said WSDOT public information officer Celeste Dimichina.
The $7.6 million project is already underway as of last week, but the biggest traffic impact will come next month when crews will need to implement a three-week, round-the-clock closure of one of the three southbound lanes.
The exact closure dates are dependent on how the work progresses in the first stage of the project and have yet to be finalized, but the closure period is currently expected to fall within the month of August, according to Dimichina.
WSDOT will deploy a portable active traffic management system with variable message signs ahead of the closure to give drivers a heads up about the exact schedule.
Mill Plain improvements
The $10 million Mill Plain improvement project began in May and is intended to smooth out the route for freight and add new bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The project zone extends along Mill Plain Boulevard from the Port of Vancouver entrance at Northwest 26th Avenue through downtown Vancouver to the I-5 interchange.
The first part of the project focused on improvements to the intersections where Mill Plain Boulevard crosses Washington and Main streets, and included a full closure of Mill Plain last weekend, according to Hanahan.
The work included re-grading the intersections to eliminate sloping portions of the road that created bottom-out hazards for freight traffic coming from the port, forcing some of it to detour to smaller adjacent streets.
The second half of the project will add new ADA-complaint curb ramps, upgraded traffic lights, parking-protected bike lanes, upgraded pedestrian crossing signals and a new pedestrian-activated flashing beacon where the southbound I-5 offramp meets Mill Plain Boulevard. Paving work is tentatively scheduled to begin July 26.
The work zone intersects with a separate ongoing project from the city of Vancouver called the Broadway Corridor Improvement project, which will replace sewer and water lines beneath Broadway to the north and south of the Mill Plain corridor.
WSDOT is also gearing up for a regionwide crack sealing project intended to prolong the lifespan of the asphalt on several I-5 corridor ramps in Clark, Cowlitz and Lewis counties, according to Greenwell.
During the winter months, water seeps into minor asphalt cracks and goes through freezing and thawing cycles, which widens the cracks and eventually damages the road if left unaddressed. Maintenance crews apply sealant to slow down degradation.
That work is scheduled to begin in September and will involve numerous temporary closures.
“There’s dozens of ramps that we’ll be opening and closing,” Greenwell said. “Mostly overnight work, but there will be some daytime work.”
I-5 Bridge closure
Another project later this month will see an overnight closure of I-5 southbound leading up to the Interstate 5 Bridge while WSDOT crews perform paving work on the roadway and the ramp from westbound State Highway 14 to southbound I-5.
The work will be timed to coincide with a planned overnight closure of the southbound bridge span so that Oregon Department of Transportation crews can apply grease to the lift span cables, Greenwell said. The closure is tentatively planned to run from 11 p.m. July 31 to 6 a.m. Aug. 1.
A similar closure of the northbound I-5 Bridge span is tentatively planned for the night of Aug. 14 and the early morning of Aug. 15. Drivers will need to detour using the Interstate 205 Bridge during both closures.
Both I-5 spans are scheduled to see intermittent nighttime closures and lifts this weekend to apply oil to the cables, a precursor to the grease application, according to a press release from WSDOT. Re-greasing is necessary every summer to keep the bridge’s lift span in working condition.