State Eyes Abandoning Highway 20 Realignment

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), December 12, 2012 | Go to article overview
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State Eyes Abandoning Highway 20 Realignment

Byline: Saul Hubbard The Register-Guard

Facing an additional $90 million in cost overruns, the Oregon Department of Transportation is considering abandoning the ill-fated realignment of Highway 20 just west of Eddyville.

Continuing landslides on the Coast Range slopes through and over which the 5.5-mile stretch of highway is designed to run mean that ODOT now expects the project to cost close to $400 million.

That dwarfs the original cost of $140 million - which was already the most expensive highway project ODOT had ever undertaken - and is almost 30 percent higher than the $310 million estimate ODOT made just two months ago.

ODOT officials will request the rest of the money they say is needed to complete the project - $176 million - from the Oregon Transportation Commission at its meeting in Salem on Dec. 19. The commission, which has five members appointed by the governor, oversees ODOT.

But ODOT also will present the commissioners with several other options, which include not moving forward with the realignment project at all. Instead, ODOT could potentially widen or attempt to straighten the existing 10-mile stretch of treacherously winding road that the realignment sought to replace.

Paul Mather, ODOT's highway division administrator, told an interim Oregon Senate Committee on Tuesday morning that such "a significantly scaled-back project" is now on the table.

"We continue to struggle with this project," he said, "At this juncture of the project - given the cost that we now know ... we want to make sure we're looking at the full range of options that we have in front of us."

While most of the landslides that have plagued the project so far have been recorded in the valleys, over which ODOT had hoped to build bridges to support the roadway, significant soil movement is now being registered by ODOT tests above the "cuts," a series of paths carved into the mountain rock through which the roadway would run.

"There's large cracks forming, that (mean) literally the whole mountain in about three or four spots (is) potentially coming down on the roadway," Mather told the committee. "We have to deal with those to proceed with the project."

The existing Highway 20 roadway runs at a much lower elevation, at a distance from the proposed realignment, and it isn't threatened by the landslides.

Construction on the realigned portion of the Highway 20 began in 2005. About half of the 5.5-mile roadway has already been built, on both ends of the uncompleted stretch.

For the realignment to move forward, ODOT said it would need to minimize landslide risk by heavily buttressing the failing cuts and installing more drains in the nearby hillsides - all of which will require additional dollars.

The agency also wants to delay the highway's target opening date for at least a year, from 2015 to 2016, and potentially longer to further monitor existing landslides in the area.

Mather said ODOT could cover about half of the remaining $176 million required to proceed using money the agency already has on hand - savings realized when other projects came in below estimates and $15 million the agency received in its May settlement with the project's original contractor, Granite Construction of Watsonville, Calif.

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