Replacing Historic Guardrail

Editing by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

A $5.5-million project is replacing historic guardrail along one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the state of Washington.

Strider Construction Co. Inc., of Bellingham, Wash., is the contractor for Washington State Department of Transportation project, Deception Pass: SR 20 - Cornet Bay Road to Rosario Road. Strider is replacing 70-year-old, outdated guardrail along State Route 20 in Deception Pass State Park with new guardrail that meets current design standards yet will retain many of the character-defining features of the old guardrail, including the defining log, rock and mortar bollard appearance. The new guardrail will improve safety and reduce the severity of accidents along SR 20.

SR 20 is the most northerly east-west route in Washington State. In Northwest Washington, it passes through Deception Pass State Park and provides the only highway connection between Whidbey Island and the mainland. At the north end of Whidbey Island, two bridges carry SR 20 over Deception and Canoe passes. The park includes sheer cliffs, water views, old-growth forests and abundant wildlife and is the most popular state park in Washington.

The portion of SR 20 within the park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the mid-1930s at the height of the Great Depression. As part of this work, the CCC constructed a stone masonry bollard and log rail system to delineate the edge of the road and prevent early model vehicles from leaving the roadway. Due to their age, quality of workmanship and importance to the surroundings, the bridges and log rails are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The highway usage has changed significantly since the CCC built the road. Currently, the average traffic volume is 15,000 vehicles per day, and the 85-percentile speeds vary between 36 and 45 mph.

Within the 2-mile segment of SR 20 inside Deception Pass State Park, the number of accidents per year has more than doubled from 1980 to 2000. According to WSDOT, 50 percent of the accidents involved vehicles hitting fixed objects on the roadside, and nearly half of these accidents involved the CCC rail.

In addition to the increased number of injury accidents, the repair of the CCC rail is very difficult. In many cases, the rock bollards have been destroyed.

To address safety concerns, the WSDOT developed this project to replace the rail with a crashworthy system. Strider began construction in September 2007 and is expected to complete the project by fall 2008.

The work involves reinforcing new stone masonry posts with a concrete core, footing and a 6-foot-wide by 20-inch-deep concrete slab running the full length of the guardrail. The Douglas fir guardrail between the posts will be fitted on the back with a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate. The new guardrail will look remarkably similar to the existing guardrail and maintain the integrity of the park, according to WSDOT.

Impact to the environment will be minimal. A silt fence will be installed to prevent sediment from entering Pass Lake. The project will not impact any wetlands or streams. Native vegetation will be used to replace plants impacted by construction activities.

The existing guardrail, along with the original posts, may be relocated to roads within Deception Pass State Park. Interpretive signs or an interpretive center will be created to showcase the historic guardrail.