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Foresthill Bridge work spending stays on track

Two lanes now open during construction work at landmark span
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The $74 million Foresthill Bridge project is staying within budget limitations and on schedule, with motorists getting a break in recent days with the re-opening of two-way traffic. The multi-year seismic retrofit and bridge painting effort started last January and is anticipated to take three years. Placer County Public Works Director Ken Grehm said that while the contractor Golden State Bridge Inc. hasn’t encountered any major unexpected challenges, work on the steel structure of the 38-year-old span and excavation in the ground around it has yet to take place. “We’ve had no major change orders but there is still a long time to go,” Grehm said. Golden State was low bidder on the project last fall, securing a $58 million contract from bridge owner Placer County for painting and retrofit work. The Hanna Group, with a $7 million contract, is serving as construction manager and will perform testing as the project moves forward. Other costs included pre-engineering and design work leading to a call for bids. Sandblasting on the bridge will be a focus in the coming months. Kevin Ordway, senior civil engineer with the county, said one of the concerns being addressed as lead-based paint is removed is whether the paint will drop into the canyon. Areas being sandblasted are encapsulated in a wrapping made of tarp material similar to the type employed in airbags. Vacuum systems allow the lead to be separated from the grit used in the sandblasting work and people doing the job are having their blood tested regularly for lead. In the coming weeks, an additional sandblaster is being brought in to allow three crews to work on the bridge at the same time, Ordway said. Foresthill Bridge, the highest in California and fourth-highest in the United States at 730 feet, spans the North Fork of the American River. It’s the main transportation link between Foresthill and Auburn. The project has resulted in traffic stoppages since February because of work on the bridge that left one lane open most weekdays. That changed this past week, with completion of work to fill in a middle section that again allows two-way traffic. Foresthill’s Janice Fera, who drives over the bridge most weekdays, said that delays had been usually about two minutes but sometimes stretched out to 20. The speed limit is now 35 mph and Fera said the California Highway Patrol has been vigilant in patrolling the area to ensure drivers stay at posted speeds. While the cost is high, Fera said she appreciates that work is being done to make it safe. The federal government is picking up nearly 90 percent of the costs, while state funds are paying for the rest. “We appreciate that they want to do the seismic retrofit and make it safe,” Fera said. “And we watch what they’re doing and they’re working hard.” Over the summer, the contractor has concentrated on completing temporary work platforms, center deck widening and the start of paint blasting. Future work includes putting down new concrete bridge decking, painting, raising the pedestrian railing from four feet to 6½ feet, constructing a new catwalk and replacing existing bridge deck joint seals and assemblies.