RASL Project Improves Infrastructure for Commuters on I-5
A Rapid Schedule is Essential: Caltrans, Shasta Regional Transportation, and Other Local Agencies Partner to Deliver the RASL Project Quickly
Any decent sized project requires coordinating between multiple entities. Financing, planning, and construction of a project become more complex and communication more important. The Redding to Anderson Six Lanes, known as RASL, project involves a number of parties each focused on improving infrastructure for commuters in north central California.
The RASL project will add an additional northbound and southbound lane on the 1960’s era I-5 making the freeway six lanes. The area being worked on is more than 7 miles and it falls between two other areas that were already widened by previous projects.
The current lanes will be resurfaced. The facelift is occurring since the current pavement has deteriorated. Only the top portion of the pavement will be removed as it will be restored and replaced leaving it in optimal condition. The area being worked on will undergo other improvements including a new median barrier, guard railing, overhead signs, drainage updates, and upgraded lighting.
Increased Use Calls for Expansion
Expansion of the highway is necessary due to the significant traffic in the area. Average daily traffic is up to 65,000 vehicles. The area has undergone growth leading to more traffic and nearly half the traffic on the I-5 is through traffic. Truck traffic has increased significantly on the route.
Increased usage of the freeway has led to slowdowns. “Growth over years has led to operational challenges, and at certain times of day, the level of service has declined,” says Sean Shepard a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) employees who is serving as the Project Manager for the RASL project.
Shepard, who has a background in project delivery, is responsible and accountable for project scope and schedule, and has been on the project for the last two months says, “The expansion will alleviate the congestion for traffic up and down the corridor.”
The Need for a Short Schedule
The RASL project is part of a long-range plan between Caltrans, Shasta Regional Transportation, and other local government agencies. According to Shepard, the project had been in the pipeline for years when the funding for the project came together. However, there was a caveat. “The project would only be funded if it could be delivered in a short time frame.”
Within six months, the project was ready for delivery. So, in this time frame the project went through preliminary design, environmental clearance, right of way acquisition, final design. Shepard says it was a team effort, “Many people worked hard and put in a high level of work to get this done. We knew if the project was not funded now, it could have taken years for the opportunity to come up again.”
Total cost for construction for the project is estimated at $130 million. The State and Federal funding comes from the SB-1 Trade Corridor Enhancement Program, State Transportation Improvement Program, the State Highway Operation Protection Program (SHOPP), and local funds from Shasta County and the City of Anderson.
According to Shepard, funding is coming from numerous sources since the various providers are focused on different aspects of the construction. For example, SHOPP is focused on upkeep, capital maintenance and not on capacity programs.
Because there are multiple funding sources, “There is more to keep track of as various sources ask what and why you are doing what you are doing,” says Shepard. “You have to have clarity before construction.”
With the work identified and quantified, the contract awarded, and the construction in progress, Shepard is confident the project will come in on budget. He adds, “So many agencies are interested in the project and its received lots of support. I-5 has been a focus for these local agencies and this project is the culmination of many of years of effort.”
Improving Trouble Spots
Typically, when roads regularly suffer from congestion, safety issues are also part of the mix. This is indeed the case on the I-5 in the area of the RASL project. Safety improvements include creating longer acceleration lanes for slower moving trucks. “The on ramps and the resulting lane changing and movement are trouble spots for the traveling public,” says Shepard. “We expect that this will be improved with the additional lane as there will be fewer collision points.”
The work involved with the RASL project is standard highway work. However, there is a great deal of bridge or crossing work included. The route includes six crossings requiring structural modification to accommodate additional lanes for a total of 12 existing bridges. Eight of these existing bridges will be widened, and four of them will be replaced. The four that will be replaced will no longer have a left and right structure but will instead become two bridges, each carrying both directions.
One crossing is over railroad tracks. The original plan was to add another lane in this part of the route similar to the rest. “We approached the railroad about widening our existing bridges in-kind and learned track clearance standards have changed since I-5 was originally built,” says Shepard. Therefore, an entirely new bridge is being built. This caused a major uptick in terms of the cost of the project.
Shepard said, “The bridge work is the critical path for construction.”
As part of the contract, two lanes in each direction must be kept open. So, where is the work taking place? “It’s a challenge as we’re trying to build a whole new lane by widening to the median,” says Shepard. “Getting trucks and other equipment to the area requires us using the shoulder and it’s difficult.”
While closures would surely make the process simpler and more straightforward, there’s too much traffic to shut down this part of the I-5. Due to the work and the construction, safety concerns have grown.
Throughout the project limits, traffic is shifted 6 feet to the outside (right) of its usual position on the roadway, allowing a temporary concrete barrier on the median (left) side of traffic in both directions. This physical separation between traffic and the workers in the median reduces the chances of accidents or injuries for everyone involved. In addition, the speed limit has been temporarily reduced within the project limits.
The RASL project began in November 2017, though actual construction did not begin until this past spring. The current construction schedule shows final activities concluding in June 2022.