Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Luntey was in his first year as the new head honcho at the California Highway Patrol’s Dunsmuir Grade truck inspection facility when the phone rang.
It was the contractor charged with completing a highway rehabilitation project on Interstate 5 that would periodically shut down half of one of the busiest roadways in America.
Luntey, an affable sort whose family is dedicated to public service – both his father, a son and an uncle have worked for the CHP – quickly agreed to a meeting.
What transpired next would ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars, shorten an onerous highway construction project from three years to two, and help pave the way for future public-private partnerships.
“It was perfect timing,” Luntey recalled. He said the inspection facility dating back more than 50 years was “in dire need of an upgrade.” A remodeling project that was in the works for years suddenly had a start date.
“It worked out,” Luntey said. “It really did.”
What cemented the unique partnership between Caltrans, the CHP and J.F. Shea Construction of Redding was the idea to shut down the inspection station only once during the project and for a longer period of time than was previously planned.
That involved reworking a series of 11 temporary roadways that allowed traffic to be diverted between the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 5. Under the original design, the crossover stages would be periodically implemented as the project progressed. Instead, there was a single, four-mile crossover that ran from July to November. It also meant traffic flowed in a smoother fashion due to fewer lane changes.
The total savings came to an estimated $3 million, according to Nicole Mallory, an engineer with Caltrans.
Mallory, who was born and raised in Siskiyou County and graduated from Mt. Shasta High School, said the idea was to combine construction sequences to expedite the work.
“We were going to have to work around keeping the scales open,” Mallory said. “We would have created temporary ramps just as we did at Lake Street.”
She added that having all three agencies combine resources was a unique process that benefited everyone involved, including drivers on Interstate 5.
“It was very significant,” she said. “Freeing up a summer basically with all the expenses and for (J.F. Shea) being able to start another job when they would have still been working on this one. And for Caltrans the overhead costs are significant and then the traveling public, of course, not having to go three seasons (with highway construction).”
Kirk Johnson with J. F. Shea said the idea of streamlining the project gained traction as estimators got into the details of how construction would actually proceed. It is not unusual for changes to be made with one state agency such as Caltrans, but adding a second public entity into the mix was a new twist.
More than a dozen people were involved in the process from start to finish. Johnson specifically mentioned Trent McGrew, an estimator with Shea, and Mike Macon, a third-party inspector, as playing key roles.
“I think it was a win-win for everybody,” he said. “John Hinton, the senior engineer (with Caltrans) was all in with me when I presented this to him.”
Although the inspection station was only supposed to be closed for six weeks, problems with one of Shea’s suppliers of #6 purple rebar stretched the closure to nearly two months. At about the same time the Carr Fire broke out west of Redding and the CHP was busy reassigning officers and canceling vacations.
In addition, some of the inspections that normally would have taken place at the Dunsmuir facility were shifted further south to Cottonwood.
To meet the project deadline of having all of the work done before winter so traffic could be rerouted back to its original configuration meant completing nearly two years of work in one summer. It definitely stretched Shea to the limit, including some long work days. But in the long run there were benefits as well.
“It allowed us to bid other jobs,” Johnson said. “Based on this contract being two years instead of three I was able to bid a $120 million job in Redding.”
Next summer it will be déjà vu all over again when southbound traffic on Interstate 5 will be diverted to the northbound lanes just past the CHP station. The same concrete roadway that now runs through Mt. Shasta, which is nearly two feet thick and lasts 40 years, will be extended to the central Dunsmuir exit from the southbound lanes of the freeway. That leaves just a short section of asphalt to connect the roadway with the Sacramento River Bridge.