Bridge and highway project moving along well

The project to widen the Lovell-Cowley highway and widen and/or replace three bridges on the route is clipping along, Wyoming Dept. of Transportation resident engineer Mike Miller said Tuesday.

“It’s going pretty good,” Miller said. “There were about three days we couldn’t work during the rainy weather in September, but now the weather’s great and nice for working.”

Wyoming Dept. of Transportation resident engineer Mike Miller poses next to a rebar cage that will soon be formed and poured to create one of several columns for the new highway bridge over Sage Creek southeast of Cowley.
David Peck photo

The $11.7 million Sage Creek highway and bridge improvement project is designed primarily to improve safety near the Oasis Junction by adding highway lanes and to replace an 80-year-old railroad bridge north of the junction on U.S. Highway 310/Wyoming 789, along with the nearby bridge over Sage Creek.

Miller said the project is designed to improve safety west of Lovell between County Road 9 just west of Good to Go and Road 7 (the Cannery Road). It will involve road widening, widening the bridge over the Shoshone River, replacing the Sage Creek and nearby railroad bridges, asphalt paving and more. Miller said widening the highway will help alleviate congestion near the Oasis Junction.

He said the project will widen the highway into a five-lane highway from where it currently begins to taper to two lanes west of Lovell on to the Shoshone River Bridge, and the bridge itself will be widened to four traffic lanes, after which the highway will again be five lanes until about the Cannery Road, after which it will taper back to two lanes.

Beyond the Cannery Road to the north, the highway will be moved and rebuilt just to the east of the existing highway and onto new bridges built over Sage Creek and the railroad track. That way traffic can continue on the existing highway while the new highway and bridges are being constructed.

North of the railroad bridge and then curving west to Cowley the highway will not be reconstructed but will receive an overlay and leveling work.

Work progress

Since the project began in late July, the contractor has been working to build up the embankment for the new highway alignment, bringing in load after load of dirt to gradually build the new roadbed, Miller said. Also in place are settlement platforms to measure how much the weight of the fill material will compress the ground below it.

Work is proceeding on all three bridges, he said.

“We just got the drilled shafts completed last week for the Sage Creek  Bridge and the railroad bridge,” Miller said, adding that the work involved augering a hole into the ground and sliding in a steel casing so the hole doesn’t cave in. The crew then dropped in a cage of rebar to give the concrete strength, then poured in the concrete.

This week, he said, the contractor is working on pouring footers for one of the piers on the Shoshone River Bridge. The piers will eventually rise to match the piers on the current two-lane bridge as it is widened to four lanes. Soon, the piers will be poured in the river bed itself, so the river water will have to be diverted.

Miller said the contractor is also working on the forms for the columns on the other two bridges.

“Our goal is to get all of the piers and bents built on all of the bridges and build the abutments on all of the bridges by this fall and winter,” he said. “In the spring we’ll come back and get the girders and go from there, building the bridge decks and the approach slabs.”

Highway widening will also be done next year, he said.

So far, the project has involved only minor traffic delays and lower speed limits in the work zone, but Miller said traffic control has been removed during the sugar beet harvest to keep traffic flowing.

Miller said during a July interview that the primary reason for the bridge replacement is that the railroad bridge has “a lower load rating that we would like compared to new bridges and it’s 80 years old,” having been built in 1937.

“It was determined that it needed to be refurbished or reconstructed,” Miller added, noting that the bridge also doesn’t meet current standards for vertical and horizontal clearance – the height and width of the bridge piers. Since the railroad bridge would be higher, it wouldn’t match the Sage Creek Bridge height and slope, so that bridge will also be replaced, Miller said. The Sage Creek Bridge was built in 1968, he said.

The prime contractor on the project is S&S Builders of Gillette, a bridge construction company, Miller said. The Wyoming Transportation Commission awarded the bid to S&S Builders on May 18. The final contract completion date is June 30, 2019.

Along with the highway and bridge project, the Shoshone Municipal Pipeline will also be moved due to the highway widening.

By David Peck