ODOT contractors Monday were blowing down bridge supports that were designed to hold up elevated sections of the new Highway 20 bypass, a project aimed at providing a straighter shot to Newport from the Willamette Valley. The current highway is a hairpin nightmare with an intolerably high rate of serious accidents.
On Monday, contractors began using gel explosives to bring down the 5 supports that were intended to hold up a high altitude bridge that crosses Crystal Creek. The trouble was, the ground under the bridge supports kept moving, and they could not stop it. At that point primary contractor Granite Construction and ODOT parted ways. ODOT hired a new primary contractor, and they are now busy finishing the project which is years and many tens of millions of dollars over budget. One of the strategies being used to keep the hills from moving is drilling horizontal drains into the hillsides, allowing the groundwater to move to the outside without taking hillsides with it.
The bridges that are already completed will stay, but the bridges through this section, including Cougar Creek, are all being scrapped. They’re putting the highway through here back on the ground using fill and culverts. The culverts will let uphill streams flow directly into the Yaquina River below.
They figure it’ll take them three more years to finish the last 2.7 miles that connects the east end of the project at Eddyville with the west end at Highway 20 mile post 16, a little east of Pioneer Hill.
The new Highway 20 section will allow Toledo’s GP paper plant a more direct route to the valley, without having to send their big trucks north to Lincoln City, then east on Highway 18 to I-5. Today’s Highway 20, with its hairpin curves, makes it too dangerous for twin-trailered semis to navigate the route safely. The straighter route will also enhance general commerce and economic development for the central coast.
ODOT says they expect to have the Highway 20 project done and ready for traffic by the fall of 2015. The big lesson learned is that when you try to punch a freeway type roadway through Oregon’s rain soggy mountains, expect problems. Those mountains are less than affectionately called “mud glaciers” in the road building business.
A little known unanticipated benefit of the new “on the ground” approach to the project is that ODOT will be paying a price price for directing local streams and creeks to flow through culverts under the new roadway instead of leaving the waterways unobstructed, in the open, running under the bridges. Culverts play havoc with spawning salmon. So, to compensate for that loss of salmon production, ODOT has agreed to rehabilitate wetlands in the Cline Hill area just north of the project as well as improve a salmon dependent flood plain at Yaquina Meadows. Fishery biologists say the deal is a good one for the environment in that the Yaquina River has never been a big producer of salmon so, in effect, the highway project will produce a net increase in salmon and other wildlife production in the region by switching to the “on the ground” option for finishing the highway.