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Alaska DOT&PF Nears Completion on Richardson Highway Resurfacing Project

by: Larry Bernstein
The resurfacing of 11 miles of Richardson Highway was performed by Granite Construction, the general contractor on the project.
The resurfacing of 11 miles of Richardson Highway was performed by Granite Construction, the general contractor on the project.
In addition to 11 miles of highway resurfacing, Granite Construction worked on over 50 culvert installations.
In addition to 11 miles of highway resurfacing, Granite Construction worked on over 50 culvert installations.
To ensure the state’s critical infrastructure remains in good condition, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) is nearing completion of the Richardson Highway MP 40-51 Resurfacing project.

Running 366 miles from Valdez to Fairbanks, Richardson Highway was Alaska’s first major long-distance road and is still regularly used today. According to the DOT&PF website, “The Richardson Highway is one of two main arteries that runs from the Southcentral coast into Interior Alaska.” The Richardson Highway intersects with seven other major highways, making it an essential piece of the state’s minimal road infrastructure.

The two-lane highway (it expands in the Fairbanks vicinity) is subject to severe weather. Winter snowstorms, avalanches, and high winds take their toll on the road, making maintenance particularly important.

The current project runs from MP 40-51, a subset of a larger project (focusing on MP 35-65). Due to funding availability, DOT&PF split the job into three projects. The first project focused on MP 51-65, and it was completed in 2020.

From Deterioration to Revitalization
Prior to the start of this resurfacing project, the MP 40-51 section of the highway was in poor shape, leading to issues for drivers and DOT&PF.

“The pavement along the Richardson Highway between MP 40 and 51 had reached the end of its useful life, and rehabilitation of the asphalt surface was needed to extend the life of the roadway,” said Sarah Schlichting, DOT&PF Project Manager for the Richardson 40-51 project. She added that the project will extend the service life of this section of the highway and improve safety.

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The project focuses on resurfacing 11 miles of the Richardson Highway, most of which has asphalt that is over 30 years old, according to DOT&PF. The department has patched/repaired many areas on multiple occasions, but now a more substantial fix has become necessary.

“[The DOT&PF team is] grinding the existing pavement and spreading it into a uniform layer to remove the bumps and dips, and then overlaying it with 2 inches of new asphalt,” Schlichting said.

Other work includes:

  • Replacement of existing guardrail
  • Replacement of roadway signs
  • Minor bridge work
  • 50-plus upsized/replaced culvert installations and cleaning of the remaining existing culverts to improve drainage and fish passage/habitat
  • New avalanche gates by Stuart Creek (MP 45.6)
  • New pavement markings and rumble strips

“The culverts will be installed, repaired, upsized, cleaned, or removed as necessary,” Schlichting said. “Replacement and/or upsizing of failing culverts will improve cross drainage, accommodate fish passage, and help preserve the pavement structure.” 

Bridge work includes replacing the bridge rail and signs and installing a waterproofing membrane on the bridge deck. Schlichting said she expects the proposed bridge work will reduce overall maintenance costs for the bridges. Similarly, the new road surface will alleviate the need for costly repairs of the existing pavement in the foreseeable future.

Setbacks and Solutions
Over the last few years, many construction projects have been impacted by slowdowns, supply chains, and more. The Richardson Highway MP 40-51 Resurfacing project is also being impacted by these challenges.

Construction work began on the project in August 2022, and the original contract completion date was July 15, 2023. Now the team expects to complete the project in 2024. The first extension of the completion date was due to the long lead manufacturing time of the culverts. A second extension was due to manufacturing delays with the avalanche gates. Schlichting said that all other work is complete.

Another challenge was the unanticipated section of large boulders that needed to be moved to install the new culverts. “The contractor was able to utilize a large excavator to remove the boulders through a 30,000-cubic-yard excavation along the edges of the embankment,” Schlichting said. “This allowed us to install the new culverts, so that the public could travel safely through the section of the Richardson Highway.”

Partnership and Payment
Granite Construction Company is serving as the general contractor for the project. The Watsonville, California-based company is one of the largest full-service general contractors, construction management firms, and construction materials producers in the U.S. The company has been around for over 100 years and has worked with DOT&PF many times. Schlichting described them as a professional and hard-working crew.

“The Richardson Highway project expands our relationship with the Northern Region DOT&PF team and allows us to work on an essential piece of the state’s road infrastructure,” said Derek Betts, Regional Vice President at Granite.

The project is being funded primarily by the federal government as they are paying just below 91 percent, and the state is paying the remainder. Originally budgeted for just under $13 million, the current contract amount is approximately $13.4 million due to change orders, according to Schlichting. The added amount is within the contingency, so the project is on budget.

When the project is completed, another section of the historic Richardson Highway will have a smooth pavement surface. The road will be safer for the driving public due to the installation of new MASH-compliant guardrails and end terminals, replacement of bridge rail, upgraded signs that meet current standards, and the installation of rumble strips that meet department policy.

Photos courtesy of Alaska DOT&PF

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