A wider road to Kilpisjärvi

Highway 21 is an important traffic route in Nothern Lapland, Finland. We are widening and paving tens of kilometres of the road.

The repairs between Kilpisjärvi and Kolari villages have improved safety on the Highway 21. The route sees a great deal of long-distance lorry traffic and tourists.

In a single day, the road between Kolari and Muonio villages is used by about 500 to 1,400 vehicles, and about one quarter are lorries. Keijo Heikkilä from the Finnish Transport Agency says that lorries often drive off the road there.

“About 150 incidents of vehicles driving off the road occur every year on that particular stretch, mainly during the winter. In comparison with the traffic volumes, the number is really high,” says Heikkilä.

The southern section of the road was narrow, and in the north, the road was afflicted by palsas, also known as frost heaves. In addition, foreign lorry drivers are not always used to driving in winter conditions and the vehicle may not be suited for ice and snow.

The safety of the road did improve by the contract in which Lemminkäinen was in charge of three tasks.

“We widened and paved 45 kilometres of the road north of Muonio. On the south side of Kilpisjärvi, we removed palsas. In Kilpisjärvi, we widened and paved some 15 kilometres of road,” explains Mikko Kuusisto, Area Manager.

All in all, Lemminkäinen used about 90,000 tonnes of asphalt for the paving project. The paving work started at Midsummer 2017 and completed in October same year. 

“We have expedited the schedule and  got almost all the work done before the winter. Next spring and summer we will continue to work and we will, among other things, make shaping works,” says Kuusisto.

Road on a bog

The most challenging part of the work has been the removal of palsas. The road was originally constructed on a bog that contains permanently frozen ice lenses. Some of the palsas are melted by the ditches dug on the bog and the heat of the sun collected by the asphalt surface, which results in new dents in the road every summer. These dents may form rather quickly, even if the road has been repaved.

“The palsas run deep, which means that we sometimes had to dig holes up to six metres deep. The hole was then filled with crushed aggregate, rock waste and other frost-resistant materials,” explains Kuusisto.

The removal of palsas was started when the ground was still frozen in order to prevent the surrounding bog from drenching the pit and to make it easy to reroute vehicles.

The repairs of Highway 21 are a part of the so-called Aurora project. It includes equipping the road with intelligent sensors that will monitor the road conditions and potential changes. Traffic automation can also be tested with the sensors.

Long way to a repair shop

Heikkilä praises the cooperation between Lemminkäinen and the other contractors. The rhythm of the work, for example, was adjusted with excellent team spirit.

According to Kuusisto, the long distances and busy lorry traffic in the summer impacted the repairs. Despite traffic control and speed limits, lorries tend to speed past the construction sites.

No repair work was carried out on Fridays due to busier traffic. The working week consists of four longer working days, after which the workers head home for the weekend.

“The workers’ commute was about 500 kilometres and also all the repair shops were far away. We had to  prepare for broken machinery. Often when I visited  the construction site I took couple of spare parts boxes with me ,” says Kuusisto.

Facts:

  • Site: Paving and repair work on Highway 21 in Lapland, Finland
  • Customer: Finnish Transport Agency
  • Time: Spring–autumn 2017 and spring-summer 2018

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