Truck route work to start in spring
The reconstruction of the truck route between the freeway and the border is set to start in late April after the state legislature approved additional funding to meet a budget shortfall for the $35 million project.
“When the legislature finished their session on March 9, in the transportation budget they had added $5 million and that’s what was needed to build the complete project,” said Todd Harrison, assistant regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
The project has been held up by budget constraints for several years. Last year the project underwent a value engineering study to trim $10 million from the initial budget and when WSDOT opened bids in January they were all substantially higher than the budget allowed due to rising costs for materials.
“Yesterday we awarded the contract to the low bidder IMCO General Construction of Bellingham,” Harrison said. The contract is for $28.3 million to widen the road to five lanes and flatten the grade, build an overpass at D Street and make other improvements designed to decrease border delays for trucks, including a dedicated FAST lane to allow pre-approved trucks to get across the border quickly. WSDOT spokesman Dustin Terpening said the trucking industry loses an estimated $22 million annually to border delays.
Harrison said the project had local, regional and national importance but that, “with respect to Blaine it’s a huge project.” He said they are planning a community meeting in mid-April, just before the anticipated start of construction, to help the community understand the construction schedule and deal with anticipated impacts.
The first signs of the project getting underway will be preliminary fencing and some survey work, Harrison said, followed by drilling rigs to start on the retaining wall needed to lower the grade of the roadway. “That will take up a lot of the big work this summer,” he said.
During construction there could be some traffic snarls but one northbound and one southbound lane will always stay open. “SR 543 will never truly close,” Harrison said. “The closure that will take place is D Street,” while the overpass is constructed, and the closure of the truck storage lane.