What many had feared is apparently coming true as the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) today issued a “Notice of Default” to Yaquina River Constructors (a division of Granite Construction Company) on the Pioneer to Eddyville Project on Highway 20.
The news release was short and not all that sweet as it said that YRC has ten days to correct their faulty design of the project to the satisfaction of ODOT, but failing that, ODOT could terminate the construction contract for default. And further, “Whatever approach is ultimately taken, ODOT intends to hold YRC and it’s insurers financially responsible.
ODOT contracted with YRC to design and build a straighter 5.5 mile segment of Highway 20 to by-pass an existing ten mile segment that has hairpin turns and no passing lanes. ODOT goes on to say that their Design Build contract with YRC puts the responsibility for design, engineering and construction squarely on YRC’s shoulders. ODOT contends that the discovery of bridge columns coming out of plumb along the construction route is YRC’s problem, not ODOT’s. ODOT claims that “YRC has made no acceptable progress on four major bridge sections and other related work since then.”
ODOT also tells the news media that they will be answering no questions on any of this until they get a formal response from YRC or their parent company Granite Construction.
However, the Oregonian has obtained a letter sent by ODOT to YRC citing that they have “missed deadlines to complete roadway, bridges and landslide mitigation, performing defective work, ignoring its own specifications and effectively abandoning the project. Despite the contract rising from $129 million to $173 million that YRC has received to date, the project remains materially incomplete and fundementally defective. YRC has failed to timely present any concrete prospects or plans for eventual completion,” says the letter.
County Commissioner Bill Hall said he was disappointed at the news saying “Although the county is not directly involved with the project, it’s very important to Lincoln County that the project is completed. It’s now three years overdue and it appears that it could be delayed even longer. And that’s unfortunate.” Hall said he believes that ODOT will find a way to finish the project, what with the millions upon millions they’ve already invested. County Commissioner Don Lindly said he too finds it unlikely that ODOT would walk away from it. He, like Hall, believes ODOT is committed to seeing it through. It’s just a question of what fix is chosen and where the money will come from. Will it be from refunds from YRC, from their insurance carriers or will ODOT turn to other state highway construction funds or other sources. Lindly said “We’ll know more in ten days, won’t we.”
The history of this issue goes back several years when it was discovered that several bridge columns were literally sliding downhill along sections of the new highway route. Some of those columns were removed while designers tried to figure out what to do about, what many call, Oregon’s “mud glaciers” that creep along due to rain saturated soils. Engineers have been closely examining the geology of the slides and they reportedly have come up with some ideas. Unfortunately, all of them greatly add to the cost of the project. YRC claims there was no way they could have known about the problem ahead of time while the state is sticking to its legal guns that when a company agrees to a “Design-Build” contract, the company assumes liability for the project’s successful completion.
There were several other major contractors that also bid on the project that conceivably could be interested in picking up the pieces if YRC is not prepared to move forward for whatever reason. ODOT has said in the past that they are absolutely committed to finishing the project which would lead most people to believe there are technical solutions that might be used whether it’s using huge amounts of fill to butt up against what’s moving (thereby eliminating the bridges) or by figuring out a more effective design to successfully pin the bridges to the ground, despite near surface movement.