As cold weather closes in on the Yellowstone Valley, road crews are winding down $19 million in projects on two busy stretches of highway near Billings.
Bridgework along Interstate 90 and a new 1.1 mile stretch of Highway 212/310 are on time and will be ready for vehicle travel by early November, said Ted Thronson, the engineering project manager at the Montana Department of Transportation.
Work on I-90 will be nearly finished, except for some odds and ends, next spring, he said. The northbound side of 212/310 will be be opened for both directions of travel while crews build up an embankment for the southbound lanes during the winter.
Sletten Construction is head contractor for the $9.1 million I-90 project. The firm has been working since April to resurface 10 bridge decks and replace six more a mile west of Reed Point to four miles east of Columbus.
The steady stream of highway traffic has been swapped back and forth between the eastbound or westbound sides of the road, separated only by a thin line of traffic markers during the construction.
Delays and diversions have meant headaches for motorists on the heavily used roadway.
“It’s a busy stretch of interstate through there,” Thronson said. At Reed Point, 7,500 cars travel I-90 on a daily basis. East of Columbus, that number jumps to 10,500.
For frustrated drivers, relief is in sight, Thronson said. “Our winter shutdown is November 15, which is when we require the contractor to be off of the road, especially the interstate.”
Two hundred feet on each side of the bridges will also get a new coat of asphalt to smooth the transition from the new decks to the existing pavement.
Concrete also is flowing about a mile south of Riverside Park, south of Laurel.
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A separate Sletten crew has been pouring concrete on the southbound side of the bridge while conditions are still favorable.
The mile-long stretch of 212/310, costing $9.9 million, includes two 382-foot bridges, which put traffic over the tracks and eliminate a treacherous S-curve through a narrow railroad tunnel.
At least 7,000 vehicles travel the 212/310 corridor daily, and the bridgework is the first of a three-phase project that extends from near Laurel to just north of Rockvale.
“They’re working as we speak getting the crushed base course placed and graded so they can pave as early as next week,” Thronson said. The northbound side of the road is expected to be paved, striped and ready for traffic between Oct. 20 and 22.
To finish the southbound side of the new road, crews will tear out the existing road under the tracks. They will then build up the embankment eight inches at a time for the two additional lanes and median.
Dependent on how much the earth-moving contractor, Scarsella Brothers Inc., of Seattle, can get done in the winter, the road should ready for asphalt in early 2015, Thronson said.
Total cost of all three phases of the Laurel project will be between $45 and $50 million, and will lengthen the stretch of highway from 10.8 miles to 11.6.
The Rockvale portion of the project is expected to get underway in spring 2015.
The third phase, which will shift the route north of the existing pavement, is expected to begin in 2016.