One of the most ambitious Klickitat County road construction projects in years is now officially a work in progress.
Work on the $1.592 million improvement of 5.97 miles of the Klickitat-Appleton Road -- at a cost of about $265,000 per mile -- began June 17 and is scheduled for completion by the end of October, weather and a trouble-free work area permitting.
James Dean Construction of White Salmon won the bid to rebuild the road, which connects State Route 142 to Canyon Road, and ties together the communities of Klickitat and Appleton, come hell or high water.
The project, a carryover from the 2001 construction season, is the centerpiece of the county's $4.8 million 2002 construction program.
Plans call for construction of a 26-foot wide roadway that meets "minor collector" design specifications.
The contractor is supposed to accomplish this by crushing and stockpiling rock on site; clearing, grading and graveling the roadway, and installing 1,300 lineal feet of drainage culverts and 17,900 feet of guardrail.
"The majority of this project meets specifications, however, there were some deviations that limited the width and fill slopes that had to be considered," noted Bjorn Hedges, assistant engineer for the county road department.
"The deviations are along the grade, from Fisher Hill Road to SR 142, due to the extreme topography. As an example, to mediate these deviations, the contractor will install guardrail along the entire length of the grade," he further explained.
That guardrail alone will cost $266,000. However, it is offset in part by the availability of an on-site rock source that will yield 100,000-plus cubic yards of material. About 75,000 cubic yards of it will be crushed on-site and used as gravel surfacing.
"This is a unique part of the contract in that the normal procedure would include an off-site quarry to generate crushed gravel surfacing," Hedges said. "This part of the contract significantly reduces costs while also providing a better alignment for the road, because once the rock is removed, the road alignment will shift over to eliminate two very sharp curves."
Once the contractor completes his portion of the job, county road crews will seal the deal with a bituminous surface treatment, which is two shots of oil over the final rock surfacing. Speed limits on the reconstructed road will range from 35 to 50 mph.
"The later the date of the contractor's completion, the less the chance of paving the road this season," Hedges said, noting poor weather or unforeseen conditions can hinder completion time. "It will be very close as to whether or not paving will be completed this season."
During construction, the road will be closed from the Fisher Hill intersection to SR 142. However, emergency vehicles and the school bus serving Klickitat will have access through this portion of the project, noted Hedges.
He added that the section from the Fisher Hill intersection, west to Appleton, will be controlled by flaggers, with traffic delays of up to 15 minutes to be expected.
Acording to Hedges, the Klickitat-Appleton Road project is part of the county's larger plan to provide all-weather access for harvest vehicles, which will eventually tie the Glenwood Valley to SR 142 near Klickitat.
It also will divert traffic away from the lower section of Canyon Road, which doesn't provide an all-weather surface right now.
But that will change within the next five to six years because the county plans to "reconstruct the remaining portion of Canyon Road to Fisher Hill Road, Fisher Hill Road to Lakeside Road (in the Glenwood area), and Lakeside Road to the BZ-Glenwood Highway," Hedges said.
According to the county's annual road construction program, adopted last December, the Klickitat-Appleton Road project was made possible by a $1.1 million grant from the state Rural Arterial Program. It's matched by a nearly $500,000 contribution of county road funds.
The gravel road, carved into the steep hillside, ascends from its intersection with SR 142 outside of Klickitat, crosses through the Four Corners stop, and merges with Canyon Road in the Appleton vicinity.
At various points, the byway offers expansive views of the lower Klickitat River canyon, particularly from a pullout above the long-established residential development known as Pitt.
It's from this vantage point that hang-gliding enthusiasts vaulted themselves into the air once upon a time, to soar above the valley below before landing in a pasture now used mostly for grazing.
During times of flooding, Klickitat residents otherwise cut off from the outside world by high water have depended on the overland route as a way of getting out of the valley.
In less inclement times, travelers have become accustomed to the long and winding road's dusty conditions and its rough, bone-jarring washboard on the grade.
"Completion of this road will obviously provide a better driving surface between Klickitat and Appleton," Hedges said. "A major complaint from our landowners is dust. As this is a well-used road for logging trucks, the reduction of dust is a major consideration."