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Caltrans Faces Challenges, but Makes Progress Delivering Projects

Despite the effects of the Great Recession and reductions in the Department’s staff, project delivery moved ahead significantly on some of the state’s largest transportation construction projects. The Recovery Act of 2009 paid big dividends on such projects as the I-405 in Southern California and the Presidio Parkway and Caldecott Tunnel in the San Francisco Bay Area.

aerial of US 101 pesedio near the exploratorium

During the year, 669 contracts were awarded for construction valued at nearly $3.5 billion. By the end of the fiscal year, nearly 90 percent of California’s transportation projects funded by the Recovery Act had been awarded to contractors. In fact, California received more Recovery Act dollars for transportation than any other state, nearly $2.6 billion for 982 highway, street, rail and port infrastructure projects. Of those, more than 850 have been awarded — meaning construction and jobs are bound to follow. As a result, many important transportation improvements were either completed or reached milestones across the state this year.

Work continued on the $1.3 billion I-405 Sepulveda Pass Project, a 10-mile carpool lane project that began in 2009. When completed in spring 2013, the project will stretch along the I-405 (San Diego Freeway) from the I-10 (Santa Monica Freeway) to U.S. 101 (Ventura Freeway). It is one of the busiest freeways in the United States, and when completed it will improve traffic flow for area commuters.

Caltrans also had several Recovery Act “firsts” during the year.

In November, Caltrans District 4 (San Francisco Bay Area) completed the first Recovery Act transportation project to break ground in California: a resurfacing of a 50-year-old section of I-80 in the Fairfield area. Approximately 200,000 commuters and truckers use the east-west route every day. Caltrans expects to invest more than $1 billion in the corridor that connects the Bay Area to the Nevada state line just west of Reno.

Then in December, Caltrans District 12 completed the first Recovery Act highway improvement in Orange County — a $65 million widening project to relieve congestion and uncork a chronic traffic bottleneck on SR-91. The project constructed a new lane on six miles of eastbound SR-91 between SR-241 in Orange County and SR-71 in Riverside County. The need was great, given that daily traffic on this section reaches as high as 300,000 vehicles. The $23.7 million project ($19.5 million from the Recovery Act) cost 40 percent less than the original cost estimates — saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

Three months later, in March, officials opened the $14 million I-805 southbound Auxiliary Lanes Project in San Diego, which enabled 130,000 commuters a day to travel more efficiently between SR-54 and Bonita Road. In addition to auxiliary lanes, the project widened the Bonita Road undercrossing and added ramp meters. The federal government contributed $9 million, making the I-805 section the first Recovery Act project to be completed in San Diego.

Caltrans also began construction in March on the $90 million I-805/Carroll Canyon Road Extension Project. The project, which received $52 million from the Recovery Act, will complete a 10-mile HOV lane and help reduce congestion in the area. Completion is scheduled for late 2012 or early 2013.

Caltrans District 4, met major milestones on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay BridgeSFOBBPlease click the link to learn more about the progress on the construction of the San Franscisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the sidebar story. and the Caldecott Tunnel.

photo of caldecott punch throughCaltrans and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (CTA) developed an innovative public-private partnership for Presidio Parkway, to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain an elevated, six-lane highway south of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Despite challenges, and surpises, including the discovery of a plant that was thought to be extinct, Caltrans continued work on Doyle Drive (part of the Presidio Parkway Project). The Franciscan Manzanita was discovered during preliminary work in the former Presidio Army Base and threatened to derail the schedule. Relocation of the plant was a success due to intense work by state and federal agencies and local stakeholders. All worked under a critical time line to find a remedy to further the $1 billion roadway construction project while protecting the environment.

The existing Doyle Drive structure is close to several historic buildings on the Presidio. Early tests showed these buildings could be harmed by pile-driving 12-foot wide columns required to support the new structure. As a result of innovative engineering by Caltrans and its sub-contractor opted for cast in drilled hole pilings, surrounded by steel casings, which are secured in place by a high-powered oscillator. Eventually, a subcontractor designed an oscillator in Germany specifically for the project. All the piles were installed through the year with no damage to surrounding buildings and no delay to the project.

Last July, construction began on the Presidio Parkway Project’s second major contract, the $116 million Battery Tunnel along with a temporary bypass. The Recovery Act provided $46 million to move the project forward.

Caltrans District 7 (Los Angeles) delivered 17 major projects in the State Highway Operations and Protection Program (SHOPP) valued at $705 million. Ten were pavement rehabilitation, five are bridge deck preservation and two are median barrier upgrades. Significant pavement rehabilitation is taking place on the Ventura Freeway (U.S. Highway 101) in Los Angeles and Ventura counties; the Long Beach Freeway (I-710); Pomona Freeway (SR-60); Antelope Valley Freeway (SR-14); Orange Freeway (SR-57), and Golden State Freeway (I-5) in Los Angeles County.

In March, Caltrans broke ground on new bus/carpool lanes on the Golden State Freeway between SR-170 (Hollywood Freeway) and Buena Vista Street in Burbank. The $69.2 million project was financed in part ($39.3 million) by the Recovery Act. The project will build almost nine miles (4.4 miles in either direction) of new bus/carpool lanes, and repair pavement on one of the most heavily travelled freeways in California.

Bridge deck preservation is taking place on I-5, the Century Freeway (SR-105), the Foothill Freeway (I-210), the San Gabriel River Freeway (I-605) and SR-110.

In the nearby Inland Empire, Caltrans completed Phase II of the I-215 Widening Project in September. Begun in late 2007, the project consists of four phases — of which, the first two are now completed. Phase III, led by the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SanBAG), and Phase IV, directed by Caltrans, are well underway and scheduled for completion in early 2013.

Because the I-215 is a major goods movement corridor, Caltrans and SanBAG needed to ensure that businesses and public were informed about construction. Caltrans District 8 (Riverside and San Bernardino counties) developed monthly partnering meetings with businesses and residents, including the city of San Bernardino, the Chamber of Commerce, and emergency personnel.

Phase IV, led by Caltrans, has $81 million in Proposition 1B funding. Caltrans, SanBAG, and the FHWA worked with elected officials to secure funding for the final two phases, which will support jobs and bolster the local economy. The project will increase capacity, cut congestion and improve air quality.

image of promotional button for I-905 openingMeanwhile District 11 (San Diego) opened nearly 14 new miles of roadway this year. Located near the U.S./Mexico border, and a major commercial hub for the region, SR-905 opened nearly three-miles of a six-lane freeway in November. The project stretches from Siempre Viva Road west to Britannia Boulevard.

In a related project, Caltrans in April began the next construction phase of the $611 million SR-905 Project in Otay Mesa, which will widen the connector ramp from westbound SR-905 to northbound I-805 from one lane to two.

When completed in 2012, the route will play a critical role in moving goods and services between California and Mexico. Total imports for 2010 exceeded $36 billion with more than four million trucks projected to use Baja California ports of entry by 2020. The project is entirely funded by the Recovery Act.

The second of three projects on the SR-78/111-Brawley Bypass Project in Imperial County opened to commuters in March. The three-mile long, four-lane freeway received $80 million from Proposition 1B. The project is designed to direct traffic around Brawley, reducing congestion and the cost to maintain Main Street, which currently experiences heavy traffic.

photo of I-67 ribbon cutting

The SR-52 Sunny Side Gateway was completed this spring, opening a 3.5-mile section of six-lane freeway in Santee. This final link connects 17-miles of SR-52 from SR-67 to I-5. Construction began in 2008 and cost approximately $520 million — paid for with the TransNet half-cent sales tax, as well as state and federal funds. The improvements are expected to reduce traffic on I-8, as well as reduce congestion on local arterials.

This spring, Caltrans District 3 (Marysville) removed damaged and deteriorated rock walls along U.S. 50 at Echo Summit and is working to replace them with barriers that meet modern safety standards. Caltrans placed electronic message signs at key spots in the Central Valley and foothill locations to redirect travelers on their way to Lake Tahoe and other Nevada destinations. The $3 million project was funded in part ($1.9 million) by the Recovery Act.

Other more rural areas of the state also delivered significant projects to the state’s transportation system. For the first time ever, District 5 (San Luis Obispo) surpassed $400 million in ongoing construction. image of Alton InterchangeIn addition to the Prunedale Improvement Project (See entry under Mobility) several large projects are under construction including the U.S. Highway 101 Milpas Improvements in Santa Barbara, the U.S. Highway 101 Rehabilitation in northern SLO County, and the SR-46 widening in eastern SLO County.

Caltrans District 1 (Eureka) began work on the Alton Interchange, at SR-36 and U.S. 101 in Humboldt County near Fortuna. The project has been a goal of Caltrans and the community for many years. It converted more than two miles of expressway to freeway by removing seven at-grade crossings and constructing frontage roads and an overcrossing. The project decreased the collision rate and reduced waiting time for turns.

In neighboring District 2 , the $66 million Dana to Downtown widening and reconstruction of SR-44 between downtown Redding and I-5 was completed nine months ahead of schedule and under budget. This project added congestion-reducing lanes on SR-44, replaced a bridge across the Sacramento River, added an on-ramp from Dana Drive to westbound SR-44, and reconstructed the Sundial Bridge Drive Interchange. The project also included a bicycle and pedestrian walkway connecting east and west Redding, and incorporated aesthetic treatments that highlight the natural beauty of the area.

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artist rendering of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge SAS

San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge


As the Bay Bridge draws closer to its grand opening in 2013, milestones continue to add up. The announcement of the Oakland Touchdown Detour marked the first time the project has discussed the official bridge opening, as the detours are being built to accelerate construction and achieve seismic safety sooner.

Progress continues to move ahead elsewhere on the bridge. Crews erected the entire 525-foot-tall single tower for the self-anchored suspension span (SAS), most of the suspension bridge’s 28 deck segments were placed during the past year, and construction began on the superstructure of the Yerba Buena Island Transition Structure.

image of san francisco - oakland bay bridge

The SAS is the transformative element of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (SFOBB), and one that will make it a new global icon. The SAS is the largest bridge of its kind anywhere in the world (2,078 feet long). Crews have worked hard to bring this vision to reality. This year, 12 more deck sections have been placed, bringing the total to 24 out of 28. These deck sections vary from 559 tons to 1,669 tons, and in length from 60-feet up to 229-feet.

aerial of sfobb looking east

Workers have also erected the single, 525-foot tall SAS tower, which is composed of four separate pentagonal legs, each made of five vertical sections or lifts, connected by shear link beams. The faceted forms of the tower legs are tapered and slender to enhance their appearance and to allow light to permeate through the interior of the tower. The tower’s placement closer to the west end of the SAS creates a distinctive asymmetrical design, of 1,263 feet from the east end and 607 feet from the west. This means that the single mile-long main cable will present a sharper angle on the west side but a more sloping appearance on the east.


Oakland Touchdown

aerial of sfobb Oakland touchdown

Just west of the Toll Plaza, nestled against the shoreline, the Oakland Touchdown (OTD) will introduce westbound drivers to the new East Span as it carries traffic from I-80 onto the sweeping side-by-side decks of the Skyway. For drivers from San Francisco, this section will carry them from the Skyway into the East Bay. The project involves building the east- and westbound roadways and a new electrical substation, in addition to extensive relocation of underground utilities.

Originally, the second phase of construction needed to wait until westbound traffic began flowing on the new East Span, because that traffic is currently in the path of the OTD’s eastbound lanes. This would have created a six- to eight-month lag between opening the west- and eastbound lanes of the new East Span. Engineers have devised a new plan that will allow the bridge to open earlier than expected to drivers in either direction.

By realigning the existing eastbound and westbound lanes just west of the Bay Bridge toll plaza, crews can finish the OTD eastbound lanes sooner than expected. Eastbound and westbound traffic can start traveling on the new bridge at the same time. The eastbound alignment change took place on Memorial Day weekend in 2011, with the westbound change scheduled for early 2012.