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CHP escorts the first trucks through the tunnel.

TRIAL BY FIRE: I-5 TRUCK TUNNEL RISES FROM THE ASHES
by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 12/2007

Extreme dedication on the part of Caltrans employees allows the tunnel to open 15 days ahead of schedule.

The southbound Golden State Freeway (I-5) truck lanes tunnel fire is a terrible story known to most everyone in southern California, to many throughout the country, and to some around the world.

If there can be said to be a “good news” aspect to this tragedy, it would be the stunning show of cooperation, commitment and capability on the part of all the emergency response agencies involved, which cleared the debris and returned the freeway to nearly normal operations in less than three days.

Because of the severe damage to the tunnel, however, the southbound truck lanes remained closed while a repair project was designed. By October 25, bids were advertised and opened four days later. Security Paving of Sun Valley was the low bidder.

The emergency repair work involved slab replacement, concrete barrier and metal beam guardrail repair, drainage and landscaping. Structure work included partial ceiling replacement/repair and repair of abutment walls, including new rebar (reinforced metal bar) support.

One clause set this contract apart from the norm—an incentive/disincentive clause to encourage early completion. The contractor had 33 days from contract acceptance to finish the $11 million job. However, by finishing before that, he stood to make an additional $2.9 million bonus. As a disincentive, failure to complete the contract in a 33-day period would have caused the contractor to owe the State $150,000 per day for each day of uncompleted work over 33 days plus liquidated damages.

Amazingly, the tunnel reopened 15 days ahead of the deadline, delighting motorists and demonstrating how quickly things can move when resources are made available. For this, I-5 motorists can thank Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for declaring the tunnel site a state of emergency and Caltrans Director Will Kempton for mobilizing emergency funds.

When the tunnel reopened, at approximately 4:30 pm on November 15, Governor Schwarzenegger issued the following statement: “Keeping people and goods moving across our state is vital to our economy, so I am proud to announce the early opening of this tunnel for the thousands of motorists who depend on I-5.” he said. “I want to thank motorists for their patience during this emergency. I commend Caltrans Director Will Kempton and his entire team for working around-the-clock to get this project completed ahead of time.”

The opening was recorded by more than a dozen news reporters, who were given tours of the tunnel that afternoon. What they saw were pristine white walls (reflective paint), a new ceiling around the northern portal, and a new lighting system that creates daylight conditions inside the tunnel. The lights are regulated by sensors that dim them at night and at the tunnel exit to enable motorists’ eyes to adjust to the contrasting light outside. Additional safety measures included installation of interactive speed monitors and lowering of the speed limit at the tunnel approaches to 45 mph.

Approximately 120 Caltrans employees representing virtually every division contributed to the success of the tunnel restoration. Unfortunately, it is not possible to list everyone’s name but Resident Engineer Amjad Obeid said that without the dedicated Caltrans staff, the contractor would never have been able to finish the project so quickly.

“Surveyors responded at 4 a.m.; we would wake up designers in the middle of the night; people worked on Veteran’s Day; Maintenance Support was always available for fabricating signs, and that’s just to name a few,” he said. “We had 24 hours to respond to the contractor’s questions but we always got back to them within minutes.”

District Director Doug Failing, a regular at the construction site himself, praised everyone involved for their contributions. “I’m incredibly proud of all the employees who worked practically non-stop to deliver the I-5 truck lanes to California motorists,” he said. “District 7 staff always goes above and beyond but this time you outdid yourselves.”

For more pictures of the tunnel project from start to finish, click on this link: http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/travel/merts/dedicated/5tunnel/index.php


 

     


 

At the beginning of the job, it did not seem possible that it would complete early. Resident Engineer Amjad Obeid is clearly pleased that the tunnel project has completed. District Director Doug Failing answers questions from the media. The speed limit at the tunnel is now 45 mph. An interactive sign will let motorists know how fast they are going.