ODOT Commission expected to formally decide January 16 to complete Highway 20 project despite higher costs, coping with higher PERS costs, and “ponying up” for economic opportunities.
Oregon Department of Transportation officials laid out for the Toledo City Council Tuesday evening what appears to be the way forward to completing the Highway 20 Eddyville to Pioneer Mountain Loop Bypass. The project is years late and many millions of dollars over budget.
They said on January 16th the Oregon Transportation Commission will be reviewing what is described as the preferred alternative to complete the project. The plan involves a full year of studying groundwater flows and hillslide slippage across critical hillside areas of the bypass. Armed with that data, they will drive a series of ground anchors to nail the foot of the hills to deeper, more sturdy soils and rock deep within the hills. ODOT officials said that this particular alternative, with good groundwater and slippage data, they will know where to drive the ground anchors and exactly how many.
But if they tried to meet a 2015 completion date of the project they would have to be satisfied with only a part of one winter’s data. Possessing only a partial picture of winter groundwater loading on the slopes, they would likely have to install more ground anchors than are truly needed, “just to be safe.” By extending the data collection through this winter and next, engineers predict they could save up to $20 million or more by driving only the number of ground anchors that are actually needed. But it would also require the road open in 2016, a year later.
ODOT staff emphasized that the engineers leading the project today are guided by some of the best landslide geologists and engineers in the world with many challenging projects successfully completed under their belts. They said the department has a great deal of confidence in their consultants, which some Salem transportation insiders have dubbed “The Dream Team.”
Most central coast residents have had a dream of their own, that some day they’ll drive to and from the valley more quickly and safely. They cautiously anticipate the project’s completion in 2016.
The Oregon Transporation Commission convenes their meeting early Wednesday morning, January 16th, in the ODOT building on the Capitol Complex in Salem.
The Toledo City Council also got a report from Treasurer Polly Chavarria that rising Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) rates the city pays to Salem are still being partially supported by a city reserve fund which should last another five years. But after that the city’s general fund would have to shoulder any further increases on its own which could have substantial impacts on other city departments. Chavarria said it would be possible to juggle things a bit and have the subsidies last ten years instead of five, but it would require heavier hits to the general fund sooner rather than later.
City Councilor Jill Lyons suggested that staff devise a plan so the reserve fund is never drawn down so that it would soften any sudden rate increases in the future. Chavarria said they will explore that option but reminded Councilor Lyons that Governor Kitzhaber, PERS and other major players in the PERS reform movement are contemplating a number of fixes that could directly affect Toledo and other city and county methods of coping with rising retirement costs for employees.
And the council tentatively decided to chip in one thousand dollars toward an ocean observation conference being put on by the Yaquina Bay Ocean Observation Initiative (YBOOI) later next month in Newport. Councilors had earlier been asked by YBOOI co-founder John Lavrakis to contribute two thousand dollars to help defray conference costs but councilors thought two thousand was a bit steep for the city’s strapped budget. So when the council meets again later this month they are expected to formally decide to make it one thousand dollars while also hitting up other Toledo ocean-dependent industries for contributions aimed at the conference. The conference has invited a number of ocean observing and marine science equipment and boat repair and refurbishment companies to take a grand tour of the Greater Newport/Yaquina Bay and River region with an eye to relocating here or expanding service levels that are already here. The Port of Toledo is in the middle of a large expansion of their boat yard at Sturgeon Bend that will soon be able to work on 98% of all commercial fishing vessels that ply the waters of the U.S. West Coast and Alaska.