BURBANK -- Construction of a new overpass and interchange are under way in Burbank in the latest $22.3 million phase of improvements for U.S. Highway 12.
Preliminary work began earlier this month, but the official kickoff was celebrated today in a late morning ceremony at the parking lot of the former Francisco's restaurant at the northeast corner of Humorist Road and Highway 12.
The demolition of that building will ceremoniously mark preparations for construction of the bridge that will cross over the highway at Humorist.
Up the road at the intersection with State Route 124, a new interchange will be constructed.
The yearlong construction by Wenatchee-based contractor Selland Construction Inc., part of the ongoing expansion of the highway to four lanes between Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, is expected to create a safer travel environment by eliminating the slowing and stopping for red lights.
Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz, a member of the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition that has worked to secure funding for the highway expansion, said the Burbank intersections have been notorious for collisions.
Though the numbers aren't necessarily high -- 77 collisions at the intersection with State Route 124 and 45 collisions at Humorist in the last decade -- the cross traffic is a recipe for danger and injuries.
"We're going to be saving a lot of lives getting (the overpass and interchange) done," Kuntz said.
That stretch of highway carries 16,000 vehicles per day. A little less than 1,000 of those are trucks, according to information from the Washington state Department of Transportation.
The project is funded by the 2005 gas tax. Work is expected to be complete in the spring of 2012. In addition to the overpass and interchange, the construction will include a number of other features:
The highway will be open during construction, but lane closures may be common during nonpeak travel times.
- Two roundabouts.
- A new county road connecting Jantz Road to Fifth Street.
- A new sidewalk on Fifth Street.
- A pedestrian path from Burbank to the Snake River.
- Turn lanes on State Route 124.
- A new entrance to Hood Park.
Today's celebratory kickoff was expected to be attended by Don Whitehouse, regional administrator for the Department of Transportation; project engineer Moe Davari; Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner; Boise Paper mill Manager Nick Nachbar; Kuntz; and Washington State Patrol Lt. Roger Wilbur.
Though preliminary work started March 9 with the relocation of irrigation pipes, Kuntz said the heavy lifting will soon be noticeable to Burbank residents and travelers along the highway.
"You're going to see massive amounts of dirt moving in April," he said.
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8321.