Drivers have grown accustomed to road construction signs just north of the Longbranch Marina, where the northbound lane of Key Peninsula Highway appeared poised to slide down the cliff and into Filucy Bay following the record-setting rains of last winter.
"To tell you the truth, I felt a little uncomfortable driving past it at times," said Longbranch resident Shirley Brewer.
Residents south of the marina will be relieved to know completion of the estimated $186,000 project is anticipated by mid-July.
Paul Marsh, superintendent of Pierce County Department of Public Works, said, "This site has a long history of subsidence activity. During our very wet winter, the site became active again and a section of the northbound lane dropped several inches. The area was monitored and temporary patches were installed to fill in the depressed area until the weather improved. After researching the site history and reviewing the topography, drainage and soil samples, it was determined that a two-pronged approach was needed to address the problem."
According to accounts from the Key Peninsula Historical Society, this particular stretch of highway in Longbranch has seen its share of water erosion. The land above and around the current Longbranch Wharf served as "town central" beginning in the late 1800s, with a community church, a post office, a hotel built in 1889, and a fruit-growers cooperative store. The co-op building collapsed into Filucy Bay in 1928. The hotel was moved from the site in 1934 to avoid the same fate.
"I’ve seen this same stretch of roadbed sink and be repaved repeatedly in the last 20 years; all were but temporary fixes," said Longbranch resident Larry Bingham. "Aside from absolutely historic rainfall, there’s a lot of spring water out here and if there’s one thing you can count on, it's upland water seeking the course of least resistance," he said.
"Pierce County Road Operations crews removed the existing pavement and the underlying base material, which included layer upon layer of asphalt from years of patching," Marsh said. "Crews then installed a geo-textile grid fabric at the base of the excavation to strengthen the repair area, effectively anchoring it to the existing upland roadbed."
"The second portion of the project included excavating the existing roadside ditch on the west side of the Key Peninsula Highway and installing an infiltration system that captures and conveys the water north under Rouse Road," Marsh said.
"The old, corrugated metal cross culverts under Rouse Road were also replaced. This work was performed to prevent the ditch water from migrating through the road base into the subsidence area," he said.
"I certainly hope they’ve got it all properly drained now,"Brewer said. "It’s frightening the damage water can do. I’m sure we’ll all be glad when the road is finished. I know the undercarriage of my car will," she said.
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