Marcus Forkner, grade inspector with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, inspects a temporary bridge being built over the Kenai River in Soldotna. The pine will be paved and is expected to be ready for traffic May 15.
The Kenai River Bridge project crews have made more visible headway in the past week as the temporary bridge moves closer to the southern side of the river.
Still a bit under half of the way to go from the north bank of the Kenai River, grade inspector Marcus Forkner said there is plenty of time to make the traffic transfer deadline.
"We expect to move traffic to the temporary bridge by May 15," Forkner said.
But he said most of the work done won't be seen by passing traffic because a majority of the effort will be put toward transferring the utility conduits from one bridge to the next.
Since the project specifications say there will be no shut-offs in services, which include electricity, gas, water, sewer, cable and phone, the work has been planned out in careful phases. The idea is to interrupt life for people and the Kenai River as little as possible. This will be achieved by a system of valves and switches for water and gas.
Crews are preparing for the transfer of utilities from the old bridge to the temporary bridge while maintaining continuity.
"We're just getting everything ready to move from one bridge to the other. That will be a challenge to keep it all moving along," Forkner said. "The project is moving right along without any snags."
What is visible and audible is the installation of the new temporary pine bridge supported by 80-foot-long steel pilings. Once it reaches the other side, it will be paved on top. Forkner said the temporary bridge will be stronger than the existing bridge.
The temporary bridge moves layer by layer and piling by piling from the Soldotna side to the Kalifornsky Beach side of the river. The crew starts hammering the pilings into the ground starting at 8 a.m. nearly every morning with a cutoff at 10 p.m. Using a giant vibrating hammer, the pilings are vibrated close to 10 feet into the ground then pounded 30 more feet down with a pneumatic hammer held by a 165-ton crane that reaches 150 feet into the sky high enough to need Federal Aviation Administration approval.
"There will be four sections that go into the water," Forkner said, adding the top priority is to keep the river clean and undisturbed.
"We're responsible for keeping all drainage out of the river and maintaining erosion control along the bank."
The K-Beach side of the bridge has been built up to receive the bridge, which will be sheet pilings, wide steel posts, pounded in like the other pilings but with a much larger hammer.
"We hit some rock we'll have to dig out. That slowed us down a little bit," Forkner said.
The crews work 24 hours in two shifts. The Wilder construction crews pile-drive during the day and do most of the welding at night.
"There is plenty to do," he said. "Good things take time, though. This bridge could last 40, 50 or even 100 years, so it will take some time to do it right."
While the shift of utilities ensues, Soldotna Public Works Director Steve Bonebrake said the goal is to have as few interruptions in service as possible.
"That's what we shoot for, that's why there are parallel circuits, so you can have constant service. That's especially true with sewer," he said.
The parallel circuits allow crews to shut off and move one part of a service, while the rest stay connected and operating.
"They've already moved the sewer lines," Bonebrake said.
Though traffic has maintained a smooth and constant flow, interruptions are in-evitable.
"They've done a very good job of not holding up traffic so far, but it will happen sooner or later," Bonebrake said. "When you're replacing one street with another, there are bound to be interruptions."
So far, there has been one traffic halt. Forkner said the two minutes and two second stop resulted in three complaints.
"That comes with the territory," he said.
Curious persons can follow progress through the project Web site at www.kenairiverbridge.com. Jason Lamoreaux, assistant project engineer, maintains the site.
"There are about 50 hits per day on the Web site, with more and more every day. Surprisingly, there haven't been many complaints about the work. But if anybody wants to know more about what is happening, they should just stop by and ask so we can explain it," he said.
The project office is at 44661 Sterling Highway, Suite C, in Soldotna next to Dairy Queen.
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