Mount Baker Highway road work is causing more than just delays

Drivers on the Mount Baker Highway are seeing more than just traffic delays as a summer-long repair project progresses.

Rocks from the chip-seal used to resurface the road are hitting windshields, causing nicks and cracks that should be repaired quickly.

“We just did one a few minutes ago,” said Tara Bobbink at Louis Auto Glass in Bellingham. “We have seen a lot of people in the shop due to rock repair.”

Crews from the state Department of Transportation, called WSDOT, have been working on the Mount Baker Highway since spring.

It’s part of a project that stretches from Interstate 5 in Bellingham, where the road is called Sunset Drive, to near Kendall, where the road is state Highway 542.

WSDOT spokeswoman Frances Fedoriska said crews are in the most intensive phase of the project, which includes blocking part of the road to apply chip-seal, which is a mix of oil, sand and gravel.

It’s causing delays of about 15 to 45 minutes, according to Twitter posts @WSDOT North Traffic.

“So far, I have forwarded three damage complaints from SR 542 drivers to our risk management team,” Fedoriska said in an email.

In Twitter posts, WSDOT said that Mount Baker Highway drivers are going too fast after the chip seal has been applied and before a second sealing layer is laid.

“We are asking travelers to help us as we finish up this preservation project,” Fedoriska said. “We need them to follow the posted lower speed limit signs where the new roadway has been applied. These slower speeds reduce the risk of the new gravel being kicked up as it adheres to the highway surface. The contractor is also sweeping the highway to remove excess gravel following the application process.”

Speed limit in the area is 55 mph, but is reduced to 35 mph during construction, she said.

Louis Auto Glass owner Rick Adelstein said rock damage tends to increase whenever roads are being resurfaced, especially in the summer.

“Any time you go on a gravel road, you’re going to get rocks in your tires,” Adelstein said.

And those rocks will fly into the car behind you, possibly damaging that car’s windshield and body.

Adelstein said his technicians are trained in fixing chipped windshields, and have been doing it since the 1970s.

Chipped glass costs about $35 to repair, and most damage is covered by insurance, he said. It should be fixed quickly to prevent damage from spreading.

New windshields — those in models dating to 2014 — can get expensive because they contain sensors that must be re-calibrated.

“A new windshield can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000-$2,000 — depending on the kind of car,” Adelstein said.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.