ODOT Commissioners today breathed new life into the long-delayed Highway 20 Pioneer Loop project that now looks to cost over $400 million dollars by the time we’ll all be driving on it, possibly in 2016, 2017, or 2018. Yes, there is THAT much uncertainty. But what seemed certain is that the ODOT Commission still believes they should finish the job because they will have even more geologic and groundwater data that will help ensure that long term maintenance costs can be minimized and save construction money by taking more time to do it right.
And part of the job in doing it right is using high tech methods to determine how much groundwater is available to push landslide down onto the highway area. How much land movement is really going on. ODOT officials told their commissioners Tuesday that they would like to get busy with other aspects of the Highway 20 proect while, at the same time, gathering more data from their equipment to ascertain what the best fixes are to avoid landslides and the like. They said the data gathered over a year will give a more detailed picture of what’s going on with the hillsides at numerous hill cuts and exactly how many ground anchors they will have to install.
The ODOT team seemed to do a pretty good job of convincing the commission that the project is doable but that it’s going to take another year of evaluating certain aspects of the project to make sure they don’t miss something. The commission admitted they’re concerned about the fact the project is already way over budget. But staff said that it’s common for projects to go over budget when the initial launch of the Pioneer Loop project was conducted back in 2005. They said the timeline was too short. The job was too complex for design-build and that more geological investigating was obviously required.
Staff recommended that they move ahead with the project along with with a year of detailed groundwater and hillside movement testing to determine how big of a fix they’ll need. They predicted that, at the outside, the project should come in somewhere just over $400 million. Staff said the good news is…they expect to have most of the money in hand due to extra money from the federal government as well as from project savings around the state.
Staff also said that dropping the project completely would still cost hundreds of millions of dollars since they’d have to restore the highway’s right of way that’s all dug up and restore the altered landscape. Plus the state would likely have to refund the federal grants totalling well over $100 million invested in the project so far.
In the end the commission swallowed hard and agreed that the project should move forward and that the decision will come next month after more paperwork comes from staff.
Lincoln County officials including House Representative-elect David Gomberg, County Commissioner Bill Hall, County Planning Director Onno Husing, Newport Port Director Don Mann, Yachats May Rob Breen, Toledo Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher, Newport City Manager Jim Voetberg, former Newport Mayor Bill Bain and Georgia Pacific Public Information Officer Sharon Kanareff spoke strongly in favor of continuing the project. Whether it’s to allow larger trucks to travel Highway 20, or ending the high rate of fatal traffic accidents or general economic health of the area, they said the “drop project” is not an option in their eyes. The transportation commission made it clear they agree with that opinion.
Bottom Line: official move forward comes next month. Work continues on the project with it being open to traffic in 2016 or 2017 with a final cost at somewhere around $400-$420 million.