The Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC) meets January 16 to consider an option to complete the Highway 20 realignment project, with a 2016 target date. Three members of ODOT district staff appeared at the Toledo City Council work session January 8, telling city officials they are confident about the engineering solutions they have the project’s final completion will be approved at the OTC meeting January 16. In fact, crews are already stockpiling rock at the site for this year’s warm weather construction season. “That allows us to jumpstart our work this year,” said Amy Ramsdell, ODOT District 3, Area 4 Interim Area Manager. The Pioneer Mountain-Eddyville Project started in 2005 with an original completion date of 2009. It has faced a series of delays, the latest of which was terminating the contract in May 2012 of the design-build contractor, Granite Construction of Watsonville, California under a negotiated settlement. The project has also gone well over budget. The OTC reviewed five options at its December meeting, ranging from a “full speed ahead” option to walking away from the project altogether, leaving it as a “road to nowhere.” There were two options that involved improvements to the existing stretch of roadway instead of a new road, but the OTC coalesced around “Option Two,” which calls for completion of the new shorter, straighter route, but with a year’s delay.
A large Lincoln County delegation testified before the OTC in December stressing the economic importance of a better highway as well as the highway’s earned reputation as one of the most dangerous roads in the state. Ramsdell said ODOT heard and will heed the safety concerns. It has already added rumble strips and speed reduction markings on the lanes at the easternmost curve on the highway at Deer Creek Road, just east of Eddyville. That curve has been the scene of several fatal crashes in recent years, and many other non-fatal incidents. Ramsdell said there are also pavement legends warning of the curve, and a portable message sign at the scene. She said a reduction of speed through the area has been approved, as well as adding more room on the shoulders. She said “we’ll also straighten out that curve…to ease people into that section of curves on Highway 20,” and ODOT has proposed additional funding to pay Oregon State Police for additional enforcement in that area.
ODOT also anticipates improvements on some of the other curves between Eddyville and Toledo under “Option Two” because opening the new road will take four more construction seasons. That work will cost an estimated $1.3 million, and must also be approved by the Transportation Commission. The next steps, Ramsdell said, are to get permits from other agencies (Corps of Engineers, Bureau of State Lands, Department of Fish and Wildlife) for some of the work, due to the potential impact on wetlands and utility easements. The most recent delays, and the failure of the design-build concept on the project, have been all about earth movement. The failure to identify and anticipate the problem led to the construction of numerous bridge abutments when quickly went out of plumb and are now being torn down. If the road is completed, creek crossings will be handled with grades and culverts rather than bridges. Ramsdell is “very confident” of its engineering as the new design schemes move forward.
A delay until 2016 would allow the collection of much better information for landslide mitigation. “We also projected back in December that (the delay to 2016) could save us over $20 million, which is quite a bit of money,” Ramsdell said. The OTC “asked for a closer look at Option 2 and so we’ll have a revised cost estimate we’ll present to them on January 16,” she added. Toledo Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher told the ODOT delegation, “One of the reasons we wanted you to come back (to present to the Council) is to let people know something positive is happening.” He said convincing the Transportation Commission to move toward Option Two “was a pretty tough sell.” He said while it is critical to complete the project, it is also wise to make sure it is “done right.” Grutzmacher also suggested that adding another year to the construction calendar would result in smaller bid packages, providing more options for local companies to obtain construction work.
(This story was modified January 10 based on comments from ODOT representative Rick Little)