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Rebuilding of Willits bypass viaduct has begun

Reconstruction is underway on a portion of the Highway 101 Willits bypass viaduct damaged when a 150-foot section of framework for the mile-long bridge collapsed last month, briefly trapping two men and seriously injuring three.

But the cause of the collapse, which occurred while workers were pouring concrete into the temporary support structure, known as falsework, remains unknown, Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said Friday.

“We really don’t know if there was an issue with the design or a piece of the materials that was used,” he said. It’s possible that they may never know, Frisbie said.

State Occupational Safety and Health officials also are investigating the cause of the accident.

The conditions of the three men who were seriously injured also remains unknown. They work for Colorado-based Flatiron West, the contractor that designed and built the falsework. The company has said it will not reveal the identities or conditions of the employees.

The contractor’s insurance company is expected to pick up most, if not all, of the tab for the reconstruction, Frisbie said. He said he does not know how much that will cost or how long it will take.

The pile of wood, steel and concrete debris from the shattered falsework has been cleared from the site along with two concrete bridge columns that shifted to one side during the collapse.

Steel cages for the new columns have been fabricated, but the contractor must wait for Caltrans to approve their plans for repairing the foundations before proceeding, he said.

Caltrans engineers are still evaluating how much of the rebar in the foundations must be replaced, Frisbie said.

Meanwhile, work on the rest of the controversial $275 million Willits bypass is continuing, thanks largely to mild weather conditions, he said.

The project has been plagued by frequent delays as a result of protests, lawsuits and run-ins with regulatory agencies.

The 5.9-mile bypass is being built around Willits to alleviate traffic jams on Highway 101. But critics contend it’s bigger than necessary and causing needless environmental damage to the Little Lake Valley east of Willits.

Since the construction accident, some residents now worry whether the bypass will be safe.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.

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