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James Street in Bellingham to open Friday after two-month delay

James Street Bridge is scheduled to reopen Friday, March 6, 2015 after being closed for construction two months longer than anticipated.
James Street Bridge is scheduled to reopen Friday, March 6, 2015 after being closed for construction two months longer than anticipated. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

James Street Road will reopen to traffic this week after being closed for eight months — two months longer than expected.

The experience has convinced city officials to change how they announce the amount of time a road project will take.

A new bridge between Sunset Pond Park and Orchard Drive will open at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 6, city officials said. RAM Construction took eight months to replace two smaller, unsafe bridges from the 1920s with a new 85-foot span. In addition, crews widened James Street Road and added sidewalks and bicycle lanes.

After the road reopens, it may be reduced to one lane at times as work around the bridge is completed. Drivers should no longer encounter detours.

To the public eye, the project appeared behind schedule; the city had announced the road would reopen after six months. With the way that government and construction companies count the days, however, the work is finishing with time to spare.

The contract between the city and RAM gave the company 180 working days to finish the job. By Friday, March 6, RAM will have worked 144 days.

Bad-weather days don’t count toward the total. In November, when crews were ready to pour concrete for the bridge deck, the weather alternated between rainy and freezing.

“Hard rain and freezing temperatures can seriously impact the curing of the bridge deck,” city project manager Craig Mueller said.

RAM, a frequent contractor with the city, was awarded the James Street Bridge project after placing a $2.5 million bid for the work. The project is within budget, Mueller said.

From now on, road closures won’t be given such optimistic time estimates, Mueller said.

“We used the ‘best-case’ projected timeline with the optimism that we could minimize the duration of the road closure,” Mueller said on Wednesday, March 4, in an email to The Bellingham Herald. “For any future projects involving closures, we will communicate to the public an established maximum closure duration rather than best-case.”

The new bridge will accommodate a reroute of Squalicum Creek away from Sunset Pond, to improve salmon habitat. That work is scheduled to begin later this year.

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