Thursday, March 19, 2020

Oh my girders, what a year!

By Cara Mitchell

One year. We are now one year closer to finishing a project that will transform travel for people crossing the Puyallup River in Pierce County. Easing congestion, adding new HOV lanes and building a brand-new I-5 bridge. After almost 20 years of construction in the area, being one year closer to finishing the final funded project on I-5 through Tacoma is kind of a big deal. So, if you’re the person who called the other day asking if construction is ever going to end, this blog is for you.

Construction on the officially named I-5 – Portland Avenue to Port of Tacoma Road – Southbound HOV project began in February 2019. Since then, design-build contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction has managed to hit several construction milestones despite being soaked by almost 43 inches of rain.

Gargantuan girders and unique walls

Who is getting the longest girder in the country? We are!

This past February, crews set bridge girders for six of the nine bridge spans that make up the new southbound I-5 bridge over the Puyallup River. To do this, the contractor had to close a section of 20th Street East in Fife. The closure opened up space for a large crane that guided some of the girders into place.
Girders for the new southbound Puyallup River Bridge being put into place
The longest of these girders, measuring 223 feet, will be installed later this year. At this time, the girder will be the longest prestressed concrete girder made in the United States.

But let’s not let our glamorous girders get all the attention. Over the past year Atkinson Construction has been building an 1,100-foot “soil nail” wall. To build it, the contractor dug into the hillside and used a driller to place four rows of giant nails into the ground. A mix of sprayed-on concrete and concrete panels were used to secure the nails and the earth (or hillside) around them. The result is a wall that is more environmentally friendly, faster to build, and creates less of an impact on travel.

Affectionately known as NB-1, the wall is located next to northbound I-5 near East L Street. It ultimately creates space for a northbound auxiliary lane that will help ease congestion in an area that sees more than 115,000 vehicles a day. The new lane will allow people driving on SR 7 and I-705 to exit at Portland Avenue without having to merge with northbound I-5 traffic.
Atkinson Construction placing concrete panels onto steel along the NB-1 soil nail wall. Building the wall is part of the widening piece of the project that creates space for a new auxiliary lane near the SR 7, I-705 and I-5 merge point.

What’s next for Portland Avenue?

Widening I-5 also means adjusting the ramps that lead into it. That is what’s happening at the northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue. The contractor needs to adjust the Portland Avenue exit to align with the wider highway. But because of a lack of space to safely and efficiently complete this work, the following temporary changes are planned this spring:
  • Up to a month-long closure of the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5
  • I-705 on-ramp to northbound I-5 reduced to a single lane
  • Northbound I-5 exit to Portland Avenue will temporarily move about a quarter of a mile closer than it is currently located and while the ramp will remain open, drivers will need to be in the far-right lane sooner than they are used to.
We understand the impact closing the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5 for a month will have. Our crews will be working as quickly as the weather allows to avoid impacting traffic any longer than is absolutely necessary. Drivers who use the SR 7 on-ramp to northbound I-5 will be able to follow a signed detour. Four lanes will remain open in each direction on I-5 during the upcoming work. We’ll tell you more details about these changes and what to expect as we get closer to making them.
Drivers will need to use this detour while the SR 7 ramp to northbound I-5 is closed. Our goal
is to complete this work as quickly as weather allows.

50 is nifty

Safety first. It is one of our core values. That’s why we want to take a moment to remind everyone to be extra cautious while traveling through the construction areas. Keep your eyes on the road and be mindful of the drivers around you. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour. Shifting lanes, narrow lanes and narrow shoulders make this speed reduction necessary for the safety of drivers and our construction workers.