Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Restoring safety to I-90 near Medical Lake one month after destructive Gray Fire

By Joe McHale

It's been just over a month since the Gray Fire burned more than 10,000 acres of property in the Medical, Silver and Four Lakes areas in eastern Washington. The devastating fire, which ignited on Aug. 18th, destroyed just about everything in its path. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate, hundreds lost their homes, and many are still counting their losses.

While it fails in comparison to what was destroyed by the Gray Fire, we have been in the process of replacing approximately 2,000 feet of burned guardrail along a roughly six-mile stretch of Interstate 90 in both directions.

Crews install new guardrail

Guardrail is, first and foremost, a safety barrier intended to shield a driver who has left the road. They can make roads safer and lessen the severity of crashes. So it was crucial for us to replace what was lost in the fire, much of which lined steep embankments and slopes.

Crews installing new guardrails

The guardrail that burned in the fire appeared in sections along I-90 between milepost 263 and 270, or approximately between the west end of the State Route 902 interchange and east end of the SR 904 interchange (see below). Contractor Frank Gurney Inc. was awarded the emergency contract and crews began pulling burned posts and guardrail and replacing them the week of Sept. 11th.

Map shows locations of fire damaged guardrail to be replaced

Typically, guardrail repair is something our maintenance crews do. But engineer Travis Morrison said that in this case, hiring a contractor helped move the process along quickly.

"We don't have the added staff and the added material for our maintenance crews to just pull them away and repair this," he said. "So we brought (the contractor) in to quickly get this back up and in functioning order."

Crews working with machinery to replace guardrail.

In addition to making repairs to the guardrail on I-90, the emergency contract includes fencing, guide post, and sign replacement on SR 902 through Medical Lake. Fourteen signs were either partially or completely lost in the fire.

The work is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.