Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Replacing expansion joints: You never know what you’ll find

By Tom Pearce

Expansion joints are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get, to paraphrase Mama Gump’s famous movie advice.

In both cases, the only way to find out what you get is by opening it. This past weekend our Revive I-5 contractor, CA Carey, found things pretty much as expected in downtown Seattle as crews replaced expansion joints and repaired pavement on the 1960s era highway. This allowed them to finish replacing the five scheduled expansion joints by mid-afternoon Sunday, June 26.

When crews have finished early, we’ve received questions about why we can’t do more joints each weekend. But, it’s important to note that work doesn’t always wrap up early, according to our contractor.

“Next weekend we could do the same kind of joints and barely get off the road in time,” the project superintendent said.

The expansion joints that were replaced in downtown Seattle last weekend were
 exactly what we expected, but that’s not always the case.

When our contractors do work like this, we provide the original plans. But those plans are nearly 60 years old, and sometimes don’t reflect the reality of what was built long ago. When that happens, our contractors have to adapt and adjust.

Then you add in factors like weather. Yes, rain can and has been a factor this year. Extreme heat can get in the way too. Ironworkers cut out the old joints and install the new ones. They need to wear heavy protective equipment, which can be tough on a 90-degree day. If it gets hot enough, like last year when we had temperatures over 100 degrees, that can even affect when concrete can be poured.

So far this year, CA Carey has finished each weekend with time to spare because just about everything has gone smoothly. When that happens, we reopen the closed lanes early and announce it to travelers. But we’ve had other projects that have taken until early Monday mornings, and it could happen any weekend on this one as well.

Why not do more?

If it looks like we’ll finish early, unfortunately we can’t just decide to do an extra joint or two. During the week leading up to the freeway lane reductions, our contractors are busy underneath I-5 preparing for the weekend work. This involves cutting materials and making other changes to help the surface work go smoothly.

Each weekend our contractor prepares to do a certain number of joints, working in advance
 under the freeway and bringing in needed materials.

Working on more joints than originally planned would also involve bringing in additional materials that are stored off-site. Some of those may not be readily available on short notice.

Planning ahead

We’re going to work every weekend now through the end of August, including Independence Day weekend, which will mean lane reductions Saturday and Sunday, July 2-3. We’ll start lane reductions later than usual, at 9:30 p.m. Friday, July 1, to help folks who aren’t able to leave town earlier that day. We’ve found that by the time we get to Saturday of a holiday weekend, traffic is a lot like most Saturdays. But we still are asking travelers to be aware of the lane closures and plan their holiday travel accordingly. We know closing lanes on major roads is frustrating but we need the space for crews to safely work and the time to allow new pavement to cure – and this work can’t be done just overnight.

For people traveling, every weekend this summer you’ll want to consider alternatives:

  • Other routes, like I-405
  • Modes of transportation like light rail or bus
  • Traveling early (before 9 a.m.) or later (after 8 p.m.)

With the arrival of summer, we know everyone wants to get out and enjoy all our region has to offer. While we’re working, you still can have fun. Just plan ahead – maybe even treat yourself to a box of chocolates.