By Buddy Fairbanks

Road delays are often frustrating and, when traveling, makes your trip that much longer. But delays mean improvements are being made. Some of those improvements are many years in the waiting and benefits of the finished product will be noticed.

“When the funding comes in, we move on (those projects) fast, because it needs to be done,” said Caltrans District 2 public information officer Trisha Coder.

One of those projects is Antlers Bridge in Lakehead, located on Interstate 5 about 20 miles north of Redding. The bridge was built in 1943 and was designed to last for about 50 years. Over 20 years after its estimated expiration, work is moving along on a replacement bridge that is expected to be completed in about two years, resulting in less road closures and a straighter stretch of highway, Caltrans said.

According to Caltrans project manager Eric Akana, the bridge was never in danger of any serious safety risks, but maintenance costs in keeping it that way were building up.

“We’ve been spending a lot of money maintaining the bridge,” he said.

That, added with the safety concerns and inconvenience of recurring lane closures to make the repairs, made building a new bridge at the location an obvious choice, said Caltrans.

Construction giants Tudor Perini Corporation out of Sylmar began the $125 million project in 2009.

“We were supposed to be done in 2015, but we’re about a year out,” Akana said. “We hope to be done by the fall of 2016 or spring of 2017.”

The new bridge will be a considerable upgrade from the old one. According to Akana, The new bridge will be about 105 feet wide where the old one was 55 feet wide. The new bridge will have a third southbound lane for trucks climbing uphill and more shoulder space for broken down drivers.

The new bridge also will be 600 feet longer and straighten out a curvy stretch of Interstate 5. Akana said with the construction of the new bridge, the realignment was a necessary added benefit.

“We had to pick a new alignment and it made sense to straighten everything out,” he said.

With the expense of building new bridges and maintaining them, Akana said the new Antlers Bridge will be built to last considerably longer than its predecessor, which was made of steel. Built out of reinforced concrete, Akana said the service life of this bridge should be about 100 to 150 years.

“We’ve taken internal measures within the design to improve longevity,” he said.

Shasta Lake being a recreation destination, Akana said the impact on boaters is minimal with this project. He said they are required to keep at least 20 feet of clearance for boaters, which has been somewhat of a challenge at times with the plunging water levels, but he said they’ve been able to accommodate it. The exception to that will be when they are ready to demolish the current bridge, but even then, Akana said they will be doing that at night and will keep the waterway open for boats during the day.

With talk of raising Shasta Dam 18.5 feet (see the story in the 2014 Shasta Lake Visitors Guide), Akana said that, although this project was started without that in mind, it would not have any impact on the bridge.

“It will accommodate the 18-foot rise and still have 30 feet of clearance,” he said.


Hwy 299 from Redding to Weaverville

Another big project in progress that has been long overdue is the road safety upgrades on Highway 299 between Redding and Weaverville, which began last year. These improvements are something the state has wanted to do since the 1930s, Caltrans said.

A stretch of the highway completed last year straightened out curves, widened the road and added medians.

“It is a lot straighter and a lot safer,” Coder said.

Feedback has been positive from the improvements so far, and according to Coder, the rate of accidents on the improved stretch is down by 20 percent. And with the road becoming straighter, motorists can also look forward to faster travel times once the work is complete.

But if you’re driving on Highway west of Redding, visitors need to be prepared for some  lengthy delays. Motorists can expect up to 25-minute delays as they work on the Twin Gulches stretch near Buckhorn Summit. Coder said they expect to be done with that stretch by the fall.


More delays further west and other areas in the north state

Further west on Highway 299, closer to the coast, Coder said motorists can expect longer delays, at times lasting as much as an hour and 45 minutes at some spots as they are working on more safety improvements.

Road maintenance work near Yreka in northern Siskiyou County may restrict traffic to one lane on Interstate 5 as work continues on the Anderson Grade Pavement Rehabilitation project. The $45 million project is replacing the current pavement with reinforced concrete pavement that is designed to last for 40 years. Work on this project is expected to be complete this year. Coder said that towards the end of the project, the Colliers rest area about nine miles north of Yreka may be shut down.

Work on the Bella Diddy Pavement Rehabilitation project may slow traffic on Highway 299 about 10 miles east of Redding near Bella Vista. Work on this project will improve a 10-mile stretch of highway from Intermountain Road to Backbone Bridge Road. This project will also add an 8-foot shoulder to the road and improve the Salt Creek and Lim Creek bridges.