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Highway 20 project completion delayed

Modified: Friday, Apr 22nd, 2011

Impasse over bridge fix keeps project on hold

The U.S. Highway 20 Pioneer Mountain to Eddyville project won’t finish on time. Ongoing concerns over how to fix support problems at two bridge locations, and negotiations between state officials and the contractor over who should pay any added costs has stalemated the project.

“We obviously won’t make the 2011 completion date,” Rick Little, public information specialist for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), said Thursday in response to a News-Times inquiry about the status of the effort.

With Project Manager Joe Squire unavailable, Little discussed the situation that has the project down, but not out. “The project will be completed, and the highway will be open as quickly as is feasible,” he said.

But not by the December 2011 deadline so eagerly anticipated by folks who travel the highway. Delays caused by out-of-plumb bridge bents (supports) discovered last February at the Eddy B and Cougar Creek bridges, and frustrated efforts by engineers to discover the cause will definitely move the opening of the bypass until sometime in 2012, and possibly into early 2013.

Last May, Squire told the News-Times that the columns at Eddy B and Cougar Creek had shifted out of their vertical alignment beyond engineered tolerances.

Settlement of fill caused the problem at Eddy B. Engineers removed the skewed support and drove 32 piles into the ground at the base to varying levels of bedrock to stabilize the replacement column. Cougar Creek was more uncertain, because the bridge sits next to one of several gargantuan ancient landslides in the project that required stabilization before the bridge bents could even go up.

Work at four other bridge sites, where landslide mitigation was also required as part of the construction, remains on hold.

Little said engineers continue to monitor the sites and have detected “no further movement,” but they remain undecided on an explanation or solution at Cougar Creek.

“We’re basically where we were last winter (when crews buttoned down the project),” he added. “We’re really no closer to being able to say whether or not we can resume construction this year.” At the moment, nothing is certain except the delay and the fact that fixing the bridge supports will add to the overall cost.

“There’s still about one season of work left to complete,” Little said, noting that ODOT and lead contractor Yaquina River Constructors (YRC) are mired in discussions on “how to proceed and who’s responsible.”

The key question is who should pay any additional costs, and ODOT officials say the contractor should. The situation is similar to the 2007 impasse that nearly destabilized the project. YRC officials asked ODOT to either terminate or suspend the project after worse-than-anticipated landslide problems boosted the difficulty and cost. A $150-million effort scheduled for completion in 2009 ballooned - after some tense negotiations - to a $215-million project set to finish by the end of this year.

Little said ODOT officials haven’t ruled anything out, but “a lot of factors are involved,” and ODOT is “not going to take a quick solution,” remaining mindful of public safety and the cost to the state’s taxpayers.

Meanwhile, a related project - the $8.5-million Pioneer Mountain Loop Road to Yaquina River - is moving along “with no hitch at all,” Little noted, and is on track to finish this summer. This project is realigning the curves near Sam’s Creek Road and repaving the existing highway between Sam’s Creek Road and Pioneer Mountain Loop Road.

To expedite the effort, a full closure of Hwy 20 is scheduled from 6 p.m. Friday, May 20, until 6 a.m. Monday, May 23, at milepost 15.

Little said the closure is necessary to align the roadway to a new bridge and finish paving 300 feet of highway. “This is similar to last year’s closure but at a different location,” he added.

Sam’s Creek Road and Elk City Road will remain open to local traffic from Hwy 20. Oregon Highway 34 is the primary detour for passenger and recreational vehicles. Trucks are restricted to legal length limitations; the suggested truck route is Oregon 99W to Oregon 18.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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