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Buchanan Road project is well underway


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Heavy equipment operators plan to be at work through this winter on a multimillion-dollar road improvement project between the township of Tuolumne and multiple locations in the Stanislaus National Forest. (Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat)
Workers are using a temporary bridge across the North Fork Tuolumne River just downstream from the old Buchanan Mine Road Bridge, which will be torn out and replaced as part of a multimillion-dollar project improving road access between the township of Tuolumne and multiple locations in the Stanislaus National Forest. (Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat)
Workers are using big-blade bulldozers and other machines on a multimillion-dollar road improvement project outside the township of Tuolumne. (Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat)
A worker climbs part of a frame that will support part of a new bridge over the the North Fork Tuolumne River off Buchanan Road, also known as Forest Road 1N01, Tuesday outside the township of Tuolumne. (Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat)
A worker drives an excavator Tuesday on Buchanan Road, where a multimillion-dollar project that got delayed by the 2013 Rim Fire is now under way outside the township of Tuolumne. (Guy McCarthy / Union Democrat)

Workers using hydraulic excavators on tracks, big-blade bulldozers, cranes, a rock drill, oversize dump trucks and other heavy machines, including a backhoe equipped with a rock-crushing jackhammer, are in the midst of a major rebuild of Buchanan Road outside the township of Tuolumne.

Blasting with explosives on Buchanan Road may require temporary closures on the West Side Trail for up to 30 minutes.

The multimillion-dollar project includes reworking 1.9 miles of Buchanan Road from Tuolumne to the Buchanan Mine Road Bridge, removal and replacement of that bridge on the North Fork Tuolumne River, and rehabilitation of six-tenths of a mile of Buchanan Road beginning at Carter Street in Tuolumne.

Bob Hurd, a project engineer with Denver-based consultant Yeh & Associates, said Tuesday workers plan to be on the job through the winter, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of September. Work began on the project in late October 2017. Hurd said the bid for the whole job was $16 to $17 million.

“We’re cognizant of the weather, but it’s been pretty benign so far,” Hurd said. “They’ve been able to get a lot of work done. This contract does not have weather days built into it.”

The Federal Highway Administration is working with Tuolumne County and the Forest Service to complete the rebuild by September. The prime contractor in charge of the project is Steve Manning Construction Inc. of Redding.

This twisting, switchbacking canyon-side road leads down to the North Fork Tuolumne and multiple locations in the Stanislaus National Forest, including River Ranch Campground, the Clavey River and Cherry Lake.

Rebuilding the narrow, bumpy road from just past the West Side Trail parking lot down to the North Fork Tuolumne requires tearing out a lot of rock and debris on steep ground. Hurd estimated there’s at least 80,000 cubic yards of waste material that won’t be re-used on the project. That’s about 8,000 commercial dump truck loads.

The old Buchanan Mine Road Bridge, which is 12 to 14 feet wide, is going to be replaced by a span more than two times as wide, with two 12-foot lanes and shoulders, Hurd said.

There were at least 20 workers on the job Tuesday, including laborers, heavy equipment operators, carpenters, truck drivers, inspectors and flaggers. By the end of the job, they expect to have put down 10,000 tons of asphalt concrete on 2.5 miles of Buchanan Road.

Brittany Cunningham, a traffic supervisor on duty Tuesday, said motorists who want to use Buchanan Road during daylight hours should expect waits of up to 30 minutes to follow a pilot car through the current 1.9-mile work zone. Daily work hours on the project are scheduled 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The Buchanan Road Project was supposed to happen several years ago, but the 2013 Rim Fire and recovery efforts in its aftermath delayed the start, Hurd said. The project is not related to storm and runoff damage during the near-record wet winter of 2016-17.

Construction on the project began Oct. 23. Work ceased on the project from Dec. 23 to New Year’s Day, and it resumed Tuesday. The expected completion date is Sept. 28.

Funding for the Buchanan Road Project is coming almost entirely from the Federal Lands Access Program, created under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act of 2012 to improve local and state roads that provide access to federal lands.

Tuolumne County’s share of the cost is about $185,000, which is included in the budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The Buchanan Road Project is distinct and separate from the Cottonwood Road Project, which is upriver at higher elevations and is being managed by Stanislaus National Forest staff. Work on Cottonwood is now ceased for winter and will resume in spring, Diana Fredlund, a spokesperson for the Forest Service, said Tuesday.

For more information about the Buchanan Road Project, visit the Federal Highways Administration page online at flh.fhwa.dot.gov/projects/ca/buchanan.