A bird’s-eye view of the Cascade Scenic Drive and Cascade Springs Road near Midway, Utah, revealed scenic grandeur that drew thousands to view the changing colors and majestic vistas.
For the drivers, however, the experience was less pleasant. Sections of the road were made up of dirt and so steep that drivers’ tires would spin before catching hold and inching up a 12 percent grade at 8,000-ft. elevation. Blind curves and steep drop-offs were common along the drive. In addition, snow in the winter and other weather loosened rock, which would tumble down the mountainside and end up in the roadway.
A joint venture of DSB Construction and Geneva Rock Products, based in American Fork, Utah, took on the $13.6 million project to match scenery with safety on Cascade Scenic Drive and Cascade Springs Road.
In addition to the challenging construction, the DSB-Geneva Rock joint venture had to navigate an intricate array of government entities who gave oversight to the project. Key project team members included U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highways Division, Central Federal Lands Highway, U.S. Forest Service and Wasatch County.
While not a project requirement, the contractor opted to create a CAD-based model, which was utilized in the excavation and grading equipment. On the Scenic Drive section, where no roadway design was provided, this model allowed the finished roadway to be reviewed before it was constructed. By using this process, the contractor identified several areas that could use slight adjustments to improve final roadway smoothness.
The scope of the project consisted of rehabilitating and paving 5.3 mi. of Cascade Springs Road and 6.8 mi. of Cascade Scenic Drive, beginning at State Route 92 (Alpine Scenic Loop Road) and ending to the east at the entrance to Wasatch Mountain State Park, approximately 4 mi. outside of Heber City, Utah.
“The unpaved section of the road was the most challenging, but also was a place where we could improve drivability and safety the most,” said Chris Robbins, project manager of DSB Construction. “Using the 3D modeling showed us the best place to realign the roadway. In some places, we realigned it 20 feet from its old location. This helped us to move forward efficiently and also helped us track the quantities of materials we would have to use.”
Building the new road involved much more than just paving. “We rebuilt the slopes in four different spots,” said Robbins. “Some spots had dangerous drop-offs, which the joint venture team helped fix by adding shoulders as well as safety features like guard rails. In other areas, the team had to remove part of the cliff, so the paving equipment could manage the curves of the pavement. Building the new road also required blasting rock to remove it from where the newly aligned road was supposed to lead.”
A subcontractor anchored chain mesh on certain cliff faces to catch any rocks dislodged in the future that could endanger drivers.
Creating Two-Lane Roadway
The first phase of the project, the 5.3 mi. of Cascade Springs Road, required workers to transform the path from a beat up, narrow, dirt road to a safe two-lane pavement.
During the second phase, the Geneva Rock team pulverized the 6.8 mi. of Scenic Drive and used the crushed fragments of the old road to form a strong aggregate base.
In total, both section of new road required 30,000 tons of an aggregate base and 30,000 tons of fresh asphalt on top. Workers paved the new road with two lifts of 1.5 in. of asphalt for a total of 3 in. of asphalt. The asphalt mix was a standard Federal Highways composition, using limestone as the aggregate.
The unusual nature of the project forced special safety precautions. “Because the road was so narrow with steep drop-offs, we gave our truck drivers hand-held walkie-talkies and numbered the curves,” said Mike Summers, project manager of Geneva Rock. “This enabled the drivers to tell the other drivers which curve they were on to avoid collisions. Our safety manager conducted regular site inspections with safety meetings held on-site to address concerns.”
The two-year project began with earthwork first and included installing culverts to divert the rain and snow away from the roadway, again increasing safety for the drivers. Truckers hauled the asphalt from Geneva Rock’s plant located in Draper.
The completed project drew rave reviews. Dallin Koecher, executive director of Heber Valley Tourism, Economic Development, said, “Now that Cascade Springs Road has been finished, it provides effortless access to Heber Valley. In the past, people sometimes didn’t travel it if their vehicle didn’t have high ground clearance. Many people didn’t want to drive on a dirt road. Because of that, they would miss seeing some of the beautiful spots in this area. My family has taken this new road many times and we enjoy the smooth travel. The Wasatch Mountain State Park and Cascade Springs areas are beautiful. Now they are easily accessible to many more people.”
Robbins looked back with satisfaction at the two-year project completed in spring 2021.
“Driving the new road for the first time was amazing,” he said. “The road is exponentially safer than it was before. The job was one of the most challenging and gratifying projects I have done in my 25-year career in construction.”
The major subcontractors for the job included QC Testing for quality control; Rock Supremacy for anchor wire mesh; B Jackson Construction for pulverizing; Diamond Tree for tree removal; B&K for guard rail; Express Environmental for erosion control; and Overman Concrete for concrete. CEG