Caltrans estimates full reopening first week of February
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
Editor’s note: Publisher Mike Harris and Editor Mary-Justine Lanyon toured the washed-out section of Highway 18 with Caltrans Public Information Officer Emily Leinen on Jan. 6. Later in the day, Leinen shared breaking news via Facebook Live about travel on the highway.
Standing over the deep washed-out area on the southbound side of Highway 18 below Panorama Point is an amazing experience.
Caltrans Public Information Officer Emily Leinen invited members of the media to join her at the construction site, where we watched the excavator and bulldozer at work.
The big news she shared immediately was that Caltrans anticipates reopening Highway 18 the first week of February. All the work will not be completed, Leinen said, “but the roadway will be fixed to the point where people can travel on it.” That reopening, of course, is subject to the weather cooperating.
The Skanska crew, Leinen noted, cannot work when it is raining or snowing. Either weather event could delay the reopening.
Caltrans, Leinen reminded us, does not do construction itself. Engineers from the state agency inspected the washed-out area and will oversee the $4.2 million project “to make sure it is up to state standards.
“We have worked with Skanska on many other projects,” Leinen said, adding they are “an excellent contractor.”
The Caltrans engineers also evaluated the northbound side of Highway 18 and deemed it safe. The culvert, Leinen noted, “is in perfect condition. Large debris came down and blocked the inlet.”
The contractor will build a taller inlet, with the top portion of the culvert raised and covered “so blockage shouldn’t occur as easily,” Leinen said.
Material being removed from the area is tested to ensure it is of good quality and can be reused to rebuild the slope. “We test the material to make sure its ability to be compacted is appropriate,” Leinen said.
The material removed from the slope has been screened, said Assistant Resident Engineer Brandon Aldape, to remove any bigger rocks. No rocks larger than eight inches are left in the material.
Aldape explained the process that will rebuild the slope. Skanska will put in place tested soil that is then compacted down with a bulldozer and a compaction roller. For the first 25 feet, they will build six-foot-deep bench lifts, which will then be covered with geogrid, a synthetic material which will be nailed in place.
The geogrid, Aldape said, “helps stabilize and reinforce the material. It holds the aggregate soil together to prevent sliding or failure.”
After the first 25 feet, Skanska will build three-foot-deep bench lifts, which will also be covered with geogrid.
Leinen said they will also be stabilizing the slope that rises above the northbound lanes to prevent debris from sliding down and blocking the inlet again.
“When I was doing the live video on Dec. 31, I could still hear the slope crumbling,” she said.
Aldape noted that the Caltrans maintenance crew inspects Highway 18 every day and cleans the culverts on a regular basis.
“This was unforeseen – materials coming from the top and blocking the culvert.”
After our tour of the area, Leinen got word that piloting operations would begin on Friday, Jan. 7 at 3 p.m. “The northbound lanes are solid and good to go,” she said.
Motorists will wait for the pilot car to guide them up and down the hill. “We want everyone to be safe,” Leinen said, asking for folks’ patience as they may have to wait a long time.
“It depends on how many people are trying to use the road,” she said.