Going nowhere: Kasilof River bridge construction creates congestion over weekend

Posted: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Some people missed their fishing charter, others late for wedding festivities, and others were just mad they had to spend a day off sitting in their car for hours due to construction related to Kasilof River bridge upgrades, as traffic ground to a halt for several hours Saturday.

Photo By Joseph Robertia
Photo By Joseph Robertia
A cement truck blocks the flow of traffic on the Kasilof Bridge on Saturday. The Sterling Highway was already down to one lane to accommodate bridge rehabilitation efforts, but with no vehicles moving in either direction for extended periods, traffic delays of two to three hours resulted.

"There certainly was a delay. It was up to two to three hours at its worst," said Rick Feller, spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

The bridge work is the third part of the Sterling Highway Bridge Rehabilitation project, which is being done by Washington-based Mowat Construction Co. The project is a major restoration of the concrete decks and steel girders of the Deep Creek (Mile 97.4), Ninilchik River (Mile 95.7) and the Kasilof River (Mile 71.1) bridges.

"Saturday's delays weren't anything that was anticipated," Feller said in regard to traffic that backed up all the way to Clam Gulch to the south, and to the Decanter Inn to the north.

Concrete was scheduled to be poured that day, and the project engineer's plan was to -- for very brief periods -- close down the one lane of the Sterling Highway currently being used to move traffic through in an alternating pattern.

This would allow the contracted cement trucks to pull onto the bridge to poor concrete. However, unforeseen circumstances came into play.

"Something happened at the job site. A concrete truck got stuck for 10 to 15 minutes in the traffic lane. This, combined with heavy traffic, caused a domino effect of traffic building on traffic," Feller said.

While Saturday's incident caused significant traffic delays for many motorists, Feller said most delays related to the project have been minor, averaging about a minute or two typically, with slightly longer exceptions, which still haven't exceeded 10 minutes on heavy traffic weekends.

Steps also have been taken to reduce the possibility of significant traffic delays for the remainder of the project.

"We don't anticipate any further delays of this magnitude. There is only one more concrete pour that should take place around Aug. 17, and it will not, and I mean not, happen on a weekend," he said.

The overall goal of the rehabilitation project is to reduce maintenance cost and avoid the eventual loss of the structural capability of all three bridges, while simultaneously increasing the load capacity of them for an effective 20-year period.

Project work began to the south in May, starting with repair work on the bridges over Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River, and construction of the Kasilof bridge is still expected to be completed on schedule.

"We're still expecting everything to be done on the job by the end of September," Feller said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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