“This project is for safety and will get a lot of the freight traffic off the local streets of Spokane,” says Project Engineer Jody Qualley, with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). “It will be better mobility for all travelers, including pedestrians.”
Groundbreaking on the NSC took place on August 11, 2001, grading from Hawthorne Road to U.S. 2. Then in 2003, the State Nickel Gas Tax Package provided $321 million to the project – enough to complete design, right-of-way acquisition, and construction from Francis to Farwell, the U.S. 2 Wandermere interchange, and U.S. lowering projects.
The Transportation Partnership Act, in 2005, provided $152 million for more right-of-way purchases and design. A $45 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant paid for construction of the southbound lanes, the Parksmith Road interchange and the first Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Rail Realignment. Multiple projects have been completed since then. The first 5.5 miles, from Wandermere to Francis Avenue, opened in 2012 and the Francis Avenue bridge over the BNSF railroad and future NSC opened in 2014.
The Connecting Washington package, passed in 2015, provided $879 million to finish the project and take the NSC to I-90. That work included realigning more of the BNSF railroad tracks, in some places 120-feet toward Market Street, to make room for the road in that right of way.
WSDOT designed the NSC. The department held several community meetings throughout the design process to seek input. Community members asked for decorative murals so at Wellesley a mural was commissioned to depict trains, which have been a large part of the neighborhood. “They are remarkable, the design and how they look,” Qualley says.
The current $64 million project, including change orders related to the soils associated with the train station contamination, extends the NSC south from Columbia Avenue to the Spokane River.
“We knew there would be some contamination, but not this much,” Qualley says.
“It’s unique to build a project of this size that is an all new alignment,” says Kelly Griffith, Senior Project Manager with Max Kuney Construction. “We are not dealing with traffic control or staging.”
Work began in April 2021 on the U.S. 395 - NSC Spokane River to Columbia segment.
The 2-mile-long project includes constructing four new bridges, two with steel girders and two with prestressed concrete girders; more than 5,500 linear feet of cantilevered retaining walls; two roundabouts; and placing more than 2.5 miles of concrete pavement.
Qualley reports that roundabouts have proven safer than signalized intersections and provide for better traffic flow. The department plans on introducing more roundabouts.
“What’s unique are the large retaining walls,” Griffith reports. “They are 32 feet tall. You do not see walls like that anymore.”
Those retaining walls required many large concrete pours. The project includes more than $1 million in single-use form liner for bridges with the decorative murals. Kuney is using large cranes to lift sizable formwork panels.
“It was challenging in that it is all on the Burlington Northern’s property,” Griffith says. “We are running parallel to the tracks.”
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Crews have had to work around active trains. Everyone must follow railroad safety and inspection requirements. Griffith says the work is very intricate. When crews are working next to the tracks, a BNSF flagger is on site to let construction personnel know when a train is approaching.
During the summer of 2021, crews began working on the Wellesley Avenue interchange. In April 2022, they started setting the concrete girders on the bridge spanning Euclid Avenue. By September, Euclid was open so work could progress on Wellesley.
The bridge at Wellesley has steel girders. All of the foundations are concrete. The deck has multiple angle points and three grade breaks. Wellesley is temporarily closed as the work continues.
Kuney is using machine grading and GPS. “There is very little survey for roadway, no hubbing, everything is off GPS,” Griffith says.
This segment is scheduled to finish in fall 2023, but with a possible opening for Wellesley traffic earlier in the summer of 2023.
In addition to the NSC, work is progressing on the Children of the Sun Trail, a shared-use path adjacent to the highway. The current $15.3 million project extends the trail from Columbia Avenue to Carlisle Avenue. It will include three pedestrian bridges.
Graham Contracting of Seattle received the design-build contract in May 2021. The project is scheduled for completion in 2023. Kuney coordinates with Graham daily to avoid any conflicts.
That will be followed by projects to extend the freeway to Sprague Avenue. It includes a southbound off ramp to SR 290 and a northbound on ramp from SR 290.
A final phase will bring the NSC from Sprague to I-90, with an interchange still under design. Construction is scheduled to start in 2024.
The entire project is scheduled for completion in 2028. When finished, “it’s going to benefit everyone,” Qualley concludes.
Photos courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation