By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Heavy spring rains and resulting poor soil conditions have kept engineers busy with a highway reconstruction project in Beaver Creek Park.
Soft ground has forced the Montana Department of Transportation to revise its plans to rebuild a 10-mile section of Montana Highway 234 in Beaver Creek Park south of Havre, MDT official said. Despite the setbacks, engineers said they remain optimistic the project will be finished later this month.
"We have started paving again," MDT project manager Gary Berg said. "We should be finished in a couple weeks."
Once the paving is complete, crews will have to lay chip seal on the blacktop. The chip seal must be applied before the end of the month, Berg said.
"MDT specs don't allow for chip seal after Aug. 31," he said. " The oil needs time to cure and you don't want it to be during the winter months."
The reconstruction project spans a 10-mile section of highway from the start of Beaver Creek Park to Taylor Road. It includes resurfacing the highway and rebuilding three bridges. A fourth bridge was replaced by the county last year.
MDT hired Riverside Contracting Inc. to complete the project for a cost of $5.69 million. The contract was amended last month after engineers encountered problems with soft ground and were forced to employ two types of stabilizers that were not included in the original contract, said Doug Wilmot, MDT's district construction manager.
Soil assessments several year ago showed a high moisture content and a mostly clay composition, Wilmot said. Engineers anticipated problems with soil stability, but heavy rainfall early this year compounded the problem, he said. The original contract had to be amended to include $828,000 of upgrades, he said.
"It's a pretty sizable change order," he said.
Crews placed a geogrid, which is a plastic mesh, as well as a strong fabric on the ground before applying the gravel. The two additions are used to keep the road from sinking into soft ground, Wilmot said.
"We added fabric and geogrid to quite a bit of the project," Berg said. "The two in combination give additional strength to the road."
The additions "did slow us down a little bit," he said, adding that the project is "coming along pretty well now."
Beaver Creek Park Board chairman Steve Mariani said the delay was not surprising considering the level of moisture in the soil.
"We really expected them to be tied up all summer," he said. "In my opinion, it's a minor inconvenience considering how nice it will be when it's finished."
The state assumed responsibility for maintaining the highway under a law enacted by the Legislature in 1999, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said. Prior to that, the county maintained the road using federal highway dollars, he said.
"Fiscally (the change) was probably a good thing for the county," Kaercher said.
The measure created a problem for the county and other landowners, who, according to Montana law, would have to fence the area along the highway. State regulations required construction of a fence on both sides of the highway and an increase in the speed limit through the park to 55 mph. The requirements upset ranchers, who graze their cattle in the park after Labor Day, and those who believed the fence would be an eyesore.
A number of people expressed concern about the requirement, including Mel Gomke and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy. Gomke was later appointed to the park board by the Hill County Commission. Tester in 2001 sponsored a bill that exempted Montana Highway 234 from the fencing mandate. The bill passed into law when it received unanimous support in both the House and the Senate.