Nimitz Rubberized Repavement
to take over a year to install, traffic must flow as I-880 work goes on
Michael Cabanatuan / SF Chronicle 30apr01
Poor Interstate 880 endures a lot of abuse.
Besides having to live with the nickname "the Nasty Nimitz," the East Bay freeway is pounded by traffic that is round-the-clock relentless. Cranky commuters crowd its lanes during the morning and evening rush hours. For most of the rest of the day, an inordinate number of big rigs and delivery trucks pummel the pavement.
The abuse has exacted its toll on I-880, punching it full of potholes, pounding it until it cracked. A drive down 880, the main link between the East Bay and Silicon Valley, is anything but a smooth and relaxing ride.
"It isn't just the ruts and the potholes, it's the whole surface," said Bob Haus, a Caltrans spokesman. "It's a real rough ride. It feels like a stucco bathtub."
But a smoother ride is on the way. Beginning in May, the Nimitz will get a fresh, flat coat of rubberized pavement or new concrete slabs along a 25-mile stretch between High Street in Oakland and Mission Boulevard in Fremont.
It's long overdue. It's been 20 years since that stretch of 880 was treated to a full resurfacing.
"It's about time they did something to that freeway," said Christopher Alex,
an Oakland resident who drives 880 daily. "It's bumpy, and lots of gravel gets kicked up. It needs to be repaved."
But the Nimitz's new coat won't come easily -- or quickly. Crews are patching potholes and sealing cracks now, but won't be able to start putting down pavement until the nighttime temperatures stay at 50 degrees or warmer -- the level needed for asphalt to stick -- probably in mid- to late May.
Once they begin, it will take workers from Granite Construction of Watsonville two summer roadwork seasons to complete the job. Even if they're able to stick to their schedule, work won't be finished until fall of 2002. An unexpected cold snap or unseasonable stretch of rainy weather could slow the project even more.
The reason for the long construction period is the steady stream of cars and trucks. State Department of Transportation officials say I-880 carries more truck traffic than any other Bay Area freeway.
"Traffic never really slows down out there," said Saheed Shahmirzai, Caltrans' construction manager for the project.
So they'll try to work around it. Caltrans has restricted the contractor to an overnight schedule on weekdays, with narrow time frames for closing lanes and on- and off-ramps. Crews will be allowed to close a single lane of traffic in each direction at 8 p.m. but won't be able to close two lanes until 10 p.m.
Closing three or four lanes, which will be necessary at times, will mean waiting until midnight and reopening two of the lanes by 4 a.m. All southbound lanes must be open by 5 a.m., and all northbound lanes by 6 a.m.
Blowing the morning deadlines won't be cheap. Caltrans' contract calls for a $5,600 fine to be levied for each 10 minutes the Granite Construction crews miss their reopening time.
While the nights-only construction schedule should minimize the effect on most motorists, it will stretch the work out for an agonizingly long time. Taking setup and cleanup times and the allowable hours for lane closures into account, only about two hours a night are left to lay down pavement.
"If you gave me the freeway on Sundays alone," Shahmirzai said, "I could complete the project in 10 weeks. When you don't have to deal with the traffic,
you shut everything down. You get the work done a lot faster."
Even with closures limited to the day's darkest hours, some drivers will still be inconvenienced. Among them are likely to be travelers flying in and out of Oakland International Airport and fans attending Oakland A's games and other events at the Oakland Coliseum complex.
Because all but a handful of Oakland's flights arrive or depart by midnight and don't start up again until 6 a.m., airport spokeswoman Cyndy Johnson said, relatively few travelers should be inconvenienced.
"It's going to require some people padding their travel time a little if they want to make their flights," she said.
As for the Coliseum complex, Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said the agency planned to schedule construction times and lane closures around events when big crowds were expected.
The fresh coat of pavement will make the ride not only smoother but quieter and drier as well. And it has the added benefit of using up discarded tires -- about 400,000 of them -- which are ground up and used as part of the asphalt paving mix.
Working under portable lights, crews will first apply a 2-inch coat of rubberized asphalt to the roadway, then add an inch-thick layer of more porous asphalt on top.
Rubberized asphalt lasts longer than the traditional mixture, dampens much of the road noise and drains better, Shahmirzai said. When it rains, water will drain from the top layer to the rubberized layer, then flow off the highway, keeping the surface drier.
"It's definitely going to be an improvement over what's there now," Shahmirzai said "But there is a long way to go."
Nimitz project facts
- Miles to be repaved: 25
- Cost per mile: $1.8 million
- Truckloads of asphalt: 20,000
- Amount of rubberized asphalt to be used: 270,000 tons
- Amount of traditional asphalt to be used: 140,000 tons
- Number of tires in the paving mix: 400,000
- Number of workers on average night: 50.
- Contractor fine for late lane openings: $5,600 per 10 minutes of delay
- Years since last repaving: 20
- Length of project: 18 months
E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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