The Waldport City Council and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) are still trying to figure out how to replace the aging McKinney Slough Bridge on Highway 34 just east of Waldport.
The council wants ODOT to find a way to not charge the city the full cost of relocating the municipal water line, running alongside the bridge which feeds water to residents and businesses east of the bridge.
At a recent council meeting, City Councilor Dann Cutter confronted an ODOT project information officer with what Cutter termed ODOT’s error in mis-diagnosing problems with the bridge. Cutter said that ODOT inspectors initially appeared convinced that the bridge was still in pretty good shape but would need some rehabilitation. But many months later ODOT discovered the bridge is actually near the end of its service life and that the crossing over McKinney Slough needs a complete replacement at a cost over $5 Million. And what’s more, the city, in the eyes of ODOT, will have to pay a half-million dollars to have their water line re-installed when it’s done. Cutter said, the city can’t foot a half-million dollar tab without eating up the city’s capacity for other major projects on the drawing boards.
The ODOT representative said that anytime ODOT replaces a bridge, and there are local water or sewer lines attached to it, the owners of those pipes must foot the bill for re-installing those pipes. Cutter shot back “But the city already gave money to ODOT based on their assessment the bridge only needed some fixing up – not for a complete re-do. It was ODOT’s error – not the city’s.” Cutter went on to say that ODOT targeted a particular federal fund that would be running out very soon, which means the bridge re-build will have to be done in a hurry. Cutter said the work pace could endanger the city’s ability to handle other pressing projects dealing with water and sewer service, city-wide.
The ODOT rep said he sympathized with the city’s predicament, but he added that state law requires ODOT to pay just for the bridge and not for anything tacked onto it. It means the city’s on the hook, not ODOT.
Cutter, visibly frustrated, said that, in the past, ODOT has made exceptions when dealing with situations where a small town has an ODOT bridge in it. He said ODOT strikes “deals” to soften the financial impact to smaller cities especially. The ODOT rep acknowledged Cutter’s point, but re-iterated that there is no extra money in the particular federal grant tied to the project to accommodate Waldport’s request for financial assistance. Then he back-tracked slightly and said he would raise the issue with his bosses at ODOT.
But the deadline looms. The ODOT rep said they’ve already lost the upcoming construction season due to the scramble to ascertain that the bridge needs replacing, and then juggling the budget to pay for it. He then said that the city could conceivably raise water bills to pay the costs. But Cutter replied that such a move would eat up bonding capacity and stymie the city’s needs for economic and industrial development. Cutter reiterated that ODOT misjudged the condition of the bridge then picked a federal grant to fund it, a grant that is about to expire – so now ODOT wants to hurry everything up. Cutter said that the city shouldn’t be financially strapped for years just because of a very expensive assessment error by ODOT engineers.
City Manager Kerry Kemp said that the issue should be brought back to the city council on June 8th, which barely makes ODOT’s financial time-line to keep the project on schedule. In his report to the council Kemp said there might be some financial help available from Business Oregon and other economic development entities that he’ll explore. But of course, he can’t make any guarantees on it with such short notice. The ODOT rep also pledged to go back to his bosses in Salem to see if there isn’t some middle path to reach a financial agreement.