FAIRFIELD — Highway 12 through Jameson Canyon is getting a sculpture on a huge scale, basically an entire hillside.
It’s one of Solano County’s biggest pieces of artwork – perhaps the biggest – but it isn’t gaudy or flashy. The goal isn’t to create something never seen or imagined before.
Workers are wrapping up a project that keeps a massive, three-tier concrete retention wall along a half-mile of Highway 12 from looking like a concrete wall. The crew from San Juan Capistrano-based Boulderscape uses trowels to make the cement look like rock, a transformation completed as the wall gets stained brown.
In effect, the Boulderscape crew’s task is to make the unnatural look natural. The workers are laborers in one sense, but California Department of Transportation Senior Transportation Engineer Elias Moussa sees them as something more.
“They are artists,” Moussa said Wednesday as he walked along the construction site.
Caltrans cut alway a large section of the hill to make room for a four-lane version of Highway 12. That three-tier retaining wall is 130 feet tall at the highest point, with sections of 20 feet, 55 feet and 55 feet. Since Caltrans had the retaining wall created from the top down, the upper sections were textured to look like rock months ago and are by now a familiar sight to motorists.
Workers on Wednesday worked on the lowest section, which at this point is out of sight from traffic.
A five-person crew sculpted the last 4-inch layer of the 1-foot-thick retaining wall, following fast behind workers who sprayed the final layer of concrete onto rebar. A couple of the workers made swipes with trowels to create the rocky look, with other workers then finishing up with brushes and knives.
“It’s kind of a fractured-granite look,” said Todd Presho, the vice president of Boulderscape and art director for this project. “It’s done freehand. There’s no drawings or forms we use. It’s all done out of our imagination.”
And done quickly. The wet concrete hardens in about 40 minutes to an hour. The workers are in aerial buckets with their faces close to the wall, so they don’t see the big picture of what they’re doing. They have to get it right the first time.
They sculpt the rocky appearance, trying to create something pleasing to the eye. But they can’t be overly repetitious in their work.
“You’re trying to duplicate nature, which isn’t easy,” Presho said.
Altogether, Boulderscape is working on a piece of artwork that covers 200,000 square feet. This is large-scale sculpting.
“A helluva large scale,” Presho said.
It’s all part of the Highway 12 improvement project that began in spring 2012 and is to be finished in early September. Caltrans is changing the highway from a rural, narrow, two-lane road to a four-lane road with a concrete median barrier. The project extends 6 miles, from Interstate 80 in Solano County to Highway 29 in Napa County.
What Moussa called a “mini-milestone” is scheduled for Aug. 1 and it is to take place in part along the retaining wall.
Presently, eastbound and westbound drivers both use a two-lane section of road on top of the first retaining wall tier. But ultimately, these two lanes will take westbound drivers only. Eastbound drivers are to use two lanes recently paved at the base of the first retaining wall tier, 20 feet lower at one point.
Drivers will get a taste of this future beginning Aug. 1. Caltrans intends to open one lane of the lower, eastbound section and keep one lane of westbound traffic on the upper section. This will create space for workers to put the finishing touches on each section of the roadway by using the two closed lanes in each direction.
Once this traffic switch happens, eastbound drivers will get to see Solano County’s newest, massive piece of art from bottom to top.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.