US-12 transformed through ITD’s efforts this summer

As early as February, ITD engineers were reaching out to the public to discuss a major undertaking for US-12 this season: two bridge replacements and 50 miles of paving.

That’s no small amount of work for the highway that follows the Lochsa River through abundant U.S. Forest Service lands and provides access to popular fishing spots and hot springs; it also gives the trucking community a scenic shortcut into Montana as it winds its way up to Lolo Pass.

Used by locals and tourists alike, this two-lane highway would see significant work and miles of orange barrels for the first time since 2000. ITD cautioned all drivers that working on so much in the remote location could lead to delays upwards of two hours.

“There are not many places to pass in the corridor, and with all of the summer traffic it normally sees, we definitely wanted to overstate delays rather than understate them,” project manager Janet Zarate said. “Thankfully, we were able to keep delays at 60 minutes or less all summer.”

ITD specifications limit delays through projects to 30 minutes, but the contractors working in the corridor phased the work to improve their efficiency and further minimize delays. Hotspots installed specifically for the projects provided connectivity that enabled project staff to promptly address any issues with delays.

Creative thinking also led to a partnership with Three Rivers Rafting out of Lowell, which ITD hired to shuttle bicyclists through the work zones.

“This partnership makes sense because at that time of year, the river doesn’t run as high, and there are fewer rafters,” resident engineer Joe Schacher said. “During their season, these companies routinely shuttle their customers up and down the river, and we didn’t see a reason for that to end this year. They have the right equipment, and we could give them an opportunity to economically benefit from construction.”

According to the rafting company, the shuttle operated for nine weeks and hauled 263 bicyclists who were visiting from all over the country and the world.

The service did not go unnoticed by the Adventure Cycling Association, which organizes some of those trips and was contacted personally by ITD engineers prior to construction.

In a letter to ITD, the association commended their efforts, which they said may be a model for construction managers in other states to follow to accommodate their groups.

As ITD engineers found ways to ease the impact of construction, they were also able to work with operations to advance more projects, including a preservation project between the two paving jobs.

In total, more than $17 million was spent to replace two bridges and resurface roughly 55 miles of US-12.

“We appreciate the patience of drivers who encountered us on the roads all summer,” Zarate said. “Now we look forward to years of driving on an improved highway.”

Remembering the Goff Bridge challenge 20 years later

 

Nearly twenty years later, the Goff Bridge—better known as the Time Zone Bridge near Riggins—remains one of a few tied-arch bridges in Idaho.*

But its unusual design is not the only thing that makes it unique.

The distinctive bridge stands out due to the dedication of several ITD engineers who oversaw its successful replacement, which began in 1996 and lasted until 1999.

At that time, Dave Kuisti was not yet the district engineer but was graduating from ITD’s Engineering in Training Program.

“I moved to the maintenance yard at Lucile for more than two years to be the project engineer,” Kuisti said. “My wife wasn’t particularly thrilled about the location.”

Located on US-95, the Goff Bridge would be a challenge to replace. The structure, built in 1935, spanned the Salmon River and served 2,000 vehicles per day, as well as 12 river outfitters in nearby Riggins.

The new structure would have to withstand consistent pressure from a slow landslide at its south end, be tall enough to stay above high water and wide enough to accommodate two trucks crossing at once.

To maintain mobility for the traveling public on the state’s primary north-south route during the construction of this three-year project, the design and construction teams planned to temporarily relocate the original structure to serve as the detour. It was the best option given the absence of an alternative route and the close confines of the canyon.

Hydraulic jacks and an estimated 72 hours would be required to move the 1.24 million-pound steel bridge to its new location 65 feet to the west. At that time US-95 would be completely closed to traffic through Riggins, prompting ITD to stipulate stricter penalties should contractor Harcon Inc. cause additional delays.

A 1996 Spokesman-Review article quoted Kuisti as saying that he felt “pretty confident” that the structure would not fall into the river. In a follow up article in 1997, public affairs specialist Ralph Poore mentioned the engineers’ eagerness to transition to the next phase of the project and described the construction challenge as “the kind of thing that makes and breaks careers.”

To advertise the closure, ITD placed notices all over the state, and even out of the state in Lolo, Montana, which sits on US-12 just across the state line. In the end, US-95 was reopened 36 hours ahead of schedule.

Watch a video of the relocation.

Robert Gordon, the lead inspector involved with surveying the area for the relocation of the bridge, said he was relieved when it went as smoothly as it did.

“It was a very critical move,” Gordon said. “If anything went wrong, the state was basically cut in two and would require a 500-mile detour to get from South Idaho to North Idaho.”

“It was not without its own tribulations,” Kuisti said. “In the end though, we got a pretty amazing structure that will be there long after I’m gone.”

According to its latest inspection, the Goff Bridge will likely last another thirty to fifty years.

*The Goff Bridge was the only tied-arch bridge in the state until the Shoup Bridge over the Salmon River was built last year south of Salmon.

Cycling group expresses gratitude for ITD efforts during US-12 construction

We know this summer’s construction has been less-than-convenient for many drivers, and knowing that there’s still several weeks of construction ahead, we would like to take the time to say thank you for your patience and cooperation.

Recently, the department received thanks about its efforts to support all users during construction from a local bicycling association. To read that letter, click here.

These words of gratitude mean a great deal to ITD as our project managers have worked hard to oversee these projects that will improve your safety and mobility along this corridor.

Any time we receive feedback, we try to respond or adjust our practices when possible. While planning construction this summer, we heard that this corridor was a popular bicycling destination and worked to reduce our impact. The result was a partnership with Three Rivers Rafting to offer a shuttle, which is noted in the above letter from the Adventure Cycling Association.

Once again, thank you for your patience, and please continue to reach out with any comments or concerns.

Several agencies partner to improve fish passage near Elk City

Beginning the week of August 27, crews will work to improve fish passage at Moose Creek near Elk City by replacing an aging culvert under Idaho Highway 14.

The old culvert is not large enough to accommodate the flow of water and allow fish to easily pass.

“At high water, the flow is constricted and funneled into the circular pipe, creating higher velocities like a spigot,” said Miranda Main, a project manager for the Watershed Division within the Nez Perce Tribe. “The culvert is currently considered a barrier to migration for spring chinook and steelhead, but the replacement should open access to upstream habitat.”

Main said all life stages of fish would be able to swim upstream, with other features of the new culvert providing them areas to rest.

This project was designed by ITD and is funded by the Nez Perce Tribe and the U.S. Forest Service.

Debco Construction will replace the culvert in the next two months for $500,000. During construction, travelers should expect alternating, one-way traffic through the work zone.

More safety improvements to US-12 near Kamiah to be constructed this summer

Construction will begin this week near Kamiah on US-12 to add turn lanes at Valley View Drive.
Crews will work during the day, with some Saturday work allowed. During active work, one lane will be closed. When crews are not working, US-12 will open up to two lanes.
Debco Construction will complete the turn lanes for $1 million in the next two months.

US-12 closed Friday night near Fish Creek Bridge

US-12 will be closed near Fish Creek Bridge on Friday night to allow contractors to retrieve a crane that went off the road last Thursday (Aug. 2).

A full closure is anticipated from 8 p.m. on Friday, August 10 to 8 a.m. on Saturday, August 11.

Due to the narrow and windy nature of the corridor, there are limited turnaround opportunities for larger vehicles. Drivers of larger vehicles are advised to wait for the highway to reopen or to turnaround before milepost 99 or milepost 120 to seek alternate routes.

For more information on this closure, check 511 or the project website.

Rattlesnake Creek Fire near Riggins sparks partnership

Photo provided by the incident management team/Mike Mussman.

 

A fire along US-95 near Riggins has sparked a partnership between ITD and a Northern Rockies incident management team to enhance safety for travelers in the area.

The fire began near milepost 184 on July 23 and spread quickly through the corridor, according to Molly Cropp, a public information officer for this team of multi-agency professionals mobilized to address long-term incidents.

No structures have been lost, but this human-caused fire is still under investigation and is currently 42% contained. More than 450 emergency management professionals have mobilized into the area, with 12 hand crews, 21 engines and four helicopters working to protect citizens, their homes and the infrastructure they rely on, Cropp said.

That infrastructure includes the highway, which is currently experiencing increased traffic as crews drive between the fire and their base camp at the rodeo grounds north of Slate Creek. Safety concerns for crews, along with low visibility, prompted a meeting between the management team and ITD.

“With the fire initially visible from the highway, there were concerns of collisions between crews and regular commuters, especially with all of the smoke,” ITD north-central Idaho Operations Manager Bob Schumacher said. “We’ve decided to reduce the speed limit from 65 mph to 45 mph for the duration of the fire or until visibility improves.”

Right now travelers should expect large trucks making turns onto, and out of, less-used routes. Cropp, along with Schumacher, encourages the public to remain engaged while driving and to avoid stopping on the highway to take pictures.

“We’ve also been relying on air resources because the terrain around the fire is so steep, and we can’t get people in there,” Cropp said. “The speed restriction through the fire area has been really helpful; our helicopters have been flying over the highway to access nearby lakes.”

This time of year, and especially in this area, it is also important to understand the fire restrictions that are in place and to use common sense.

“Flashy fuels grow next to the highway, so don’t throw any cigarettes out the window,” Cropp said. “What starts as a small brush fire can quickly turn into a big fire.”

To learn more about the Rattlesnake Fire, view daily updates at the InciWeb page.

IDFG helps ITD preserve Lochsa swimmers

Plenty of folks fish along the Lochsa River that flows beside US-12 in north-central Idaho, but not many get to electrofish.

Electrofishing is a technique used by agencies such as Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) to safely survey fish. It involves sending electricity into the water to temporarily stun fish to easily capture them with nets.

“It’s a way to sample fish without killing them,” said Joe DuPont, IDFG fisheries manager for the Clearwater region. “It allows us to get our hands on them and learn more.”

At the request of ITD, IDFG recently sent fisheries technicians to electrofish Maggie Creek, which flows under a bridge that is currently being replaced. They were able to collect important data* by surveying the fish before transporting them further upstream.

DuPont said as state agencies IDFG and ITD work together to share resources and expertise to save the state money.

ITD purposefully stages in-water work such as pier removal during a fish window, or a time when impacts to fish will be at its lowest. For District 2, that window is from July 15 to August 15.

“One month can be a tight timeframe for agencies to work within,” D2 senior environmental planner Shawn Smith said. “We appreciate IDFG’s continued partnership as we work to enhance the safety of the highway for the public while limiting impacts to the area’s valued resources.”

Following electrofishing, Smith said crews were able to use cofferdams to isolate a section of the stream without trapping any species. For the remainder of construction, fish will continue to swim upstream unimpeded.

Fish Creek Bridge, which is also under construction, will experience similar efforts by IDFG and ITD in the coming weeks.

*IDFG fisheries technicians found 1 rainbow trout, 13 speckled dace, 16 sculpin, 5 northern pike minnows, 3 suckers and 1 redside shiner while electrofishing.

Rafting company becomes partner in US-12 construction

US-12 winds its way through the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests and along the banks of the Lochsa River in north-central Idaho, serving as a scenic gateway to a range of outdoor activities from bicycling to rafting.

This summer, recreationists will see lines of orange barrels as the Idaho Transportation Department oversees the construction of $17 million in safety improvements.

Four projects to replace two bridges and repave 50 miles of the remote highway will likely delay the average traveler nearly two hours between Kamiah and the Idaho-Montana border. Given the impacts, project managers have strived from the beginning to be responsive to community concerns and to look at the corridor in its context.

As the project manager for three of the four projects, Janet Zarate has been at the forefront of brainstorming strategies to minimize effects where possible. With the help of her supervisor Joe Schacher, they’ve initiated an innovative partnership between contractors, a rafting company and ITD.

“This route is very popular among cyclists,” Zarate said. “It was important throughout the process to consider our impacts on this group, and by thinking outside of the box, I think we’ve found a way to do that.”

Zarate and Schacher worked with Knife River, the contractor of the paving operations, to come up with some creative ideas to mitigate construction impacts to this particular group.

With paving work underway, cyclists would be faced with long work zones and a highway crowded with drivers anxious to get on their way. Knife River suggested using school buses to load these two-wheeled travelers with their equipment, but Schacher posed a different solution: offer a daytime biker shuttle, operated by a local rafting company, to give them a respite by transporting them safely through the work zone.

Just last week, Three Rivers Rafting of Lowell accepted the offer.

“This partnership makes sense because at this time of year, the river doesn’t run as high, and there are fewer rafters,” Schacher said. “During their season, these companies routinely shuttle their customers up and down the river, and we didn’t see a reason for that to end this year. They have the right equipment, and we can give them an opportunity to economically benefit from construction.”

This partnership is not the first involving this project—ITD engineers have frequently met with local stakeholders, including the U.S. Forest Service as they prepare to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“This highway means a lot to our stakeholders, whether they access it to go hiking, fishing, biking or just to enjoy the scenery,” Schacher said. “Knowing that, we’ve worked with others to be as conscientious as possible while planning and managing construction in the corridor.”

US-12 to be closed near Fish Creek Bridge within the next week

An oversize load went off US-12 last night (Aug. 2) at milepost 114 just west of Fish Creek Bridge.

There are no extra delays or restrictions through the corridor right now, but in the coming days a full closure will be announced to allow crews to remove the load. At this time the date and the duration of the full closure is unknown but is expected within the next week.

ITD will post updates via 511, signage, the project website and the corridor newsletter.