Highway crews are making the grades

Tribune/Pete CasterTraffic moves slowly in both directions along the gravel section of U.S. Highway 95 through the construction area near the top of the Winchester Grade on Friday afternoon. Work on the grade is expected to go on until late September.

Travelers on Idaho’s north-south arterial, U.S. Highway 95, will continue to experience traffic delays on the White Bird and Winchester grades as construction is expected to last through the summer months.

Although the paving project between Race Creek near Riggins and Slate Creek, 13 miles north of Riggins, is nearly complete, work on the shoulder of the road will last until July 31, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.

The main activity underway is a paving job on the White Bird hill. Road construction is in progress while the surface is being repaved and traffic there is reduced to two lanes.

George Elliott, project manager for the White Bird design, said so far the work has gone well, and construction on the approximately 7 miles of highway is on schedule.

“We’re required to keep two lanes open — one north- and south-bound out of the three lanes available,” Elliott said. The contractor, Knife River of Boise, “should be done with the main line of paving by the end of next week, but will transition to working on the runaway truck ramps and the pull-offs on the side of the road for maybe another two weeks.”

Elliott said the cost of the project is about $4.1 million.

Marvin Ramirez, project manager for the $27 million paving and reconstruction project on the Winchester Grade about 6 miles north of Craigmont, said all has gone well except for a crane crash that occurred at the site June 29.

The contractor was getting ready to install one of the temporary bridges,“and they were drilling down and it seems like the crane went over one of the holes that they were working on and lost balance and went down,” Ramirez said.

Traffic was stalled for a few hours, but crews managed to get the crane upright within three days, he added.

The work calls for blasting through rocky canyon walls to enlarge the passing lane on the narrow roadway, as well as replacing five culverts. Traffic has been stopped several times during evening hours for blasting and clearing away the resulting rock and debris.

Several large railroad car containers, noticeably distorted, sit along the roadside to collect the rocks from the blast, Ramirez said, and prevent them from landing in nearby Lapwai Creek.

The closure Thursday night “was shot number 20,” he said. “Usually it takes about an hour and a half, so they close the road at 7 (p.m.), and then the shot takes a few minutes, and then they start cleaning up all the material that gets in the roadway. That way we can have traffic pass.”

Traffic has been halted or funneled to one lane throughout the project, which Ramirez said should be nearly completed by the end of September.

Contractors include Traffic Corp. for traffic control and Barnes, Inc., of Lewiston for the blasting.

Another repaving and bridge construction project on Case Road, about 1 mile north of Grangeville on State Highway 13, also is in progress.

There is some work on the shoulder of the road and traffic has been reduced to one lane. Travelers can expect some delays during the process.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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