State road work pulls over for holidays

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Crews resurface a section of Highway 12 through Walla Walla on a Friday morning. Friday, June 24, 2011

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Vehicles traveling east on Highway 12 round a bend to see a "Roadway Paving" sign warning them of highway work as they travel through Walla Walla. Friday, June 24, 2011

It's ironic most highway construction takes place in the summer when folks are on the road.

That thought popped in my mind on the cusp of the Memorial Day weekend -- the unofficial start of the summer travel season. A reader fired off an email that made it my way asking why the state of Washington was going to close the major route to downtown Walla Walla, including the Second Avenue exit, on a holiday weekend.

Hmmm. The timing, it would seem, stinks. Having no easy exit to downtown would certainly take a bite out of tourism and wine sales.

But the holiday weekend came and went and I didn't see any road work take place. I drove by the Second Avenue exit several times over the three-day weekend. It was always open.

What's up with that?

It turns out that's the way the state Department of Transportation rolls -- or perhaps that should be doesn't roll.

Moe Davari, DOT project engineer based in Richland, said it's DOT policy to put the heavy equipment on hold during holiday weekends -- summer, fall, winter and spring.

Davari said the stipulation that road construction can't take place on three-day holiday weekends is written into every DOT contract with the firms it hires to do the work.

It is also verboten for contractors to work on weekends in which large local events take place. For example, he said state road construction isn't done in this Valley on Balloon Stampede weekend nor in the Tri-Cities on boat race (Water Follies) weekend in late July, he said.

And, Davari added, the local traffic patterns are always taken into account. If there are times when traffic is particularly heavy, such as late afternoon in the Tri-Cities, an effort is made to alter the schedule so traffic won't be significantly slowed.

"We try to look out (for what is happening) locally," Davari said. "We check computers. We look at those issues when we are designing our projects."

Currently, the state is resurfacing U.S. Highway 12 through Walla Walla, which is why it might have looked to some as if work was going to be done on Memorial Day weekend.

As the next holiday approaches -- the Fourth of July -- Davari made it clear road construction would not delay holidays travelers coming in or going out of Walla Walla. In fact, travelers will be free to roam the state without having to worry about being delayed for road construction.

That isn't always easy for the road construction companies with state contracts. They have strict deadlines to complete projects. If the deadlines are missed their payment by the state is lowered.

This is why, Davari said, you sometimes see road construction on Saturdays during the spring, summer or fall.

But even if the contractors are behind, he said, the bulldozers and asphalt pavers must be parked on holiday weekends.

Rick Eskil can be reached at rickeskil@wwub.com or 509-526-8309. If you, too, wonder what's up with that, let Eskil know about it and maybe he can find out.

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