The Oregon Transportation Commission today voted unanimously to proceed full speed ahead with completion of the very expensive Highway 20 re-alignment project that is already several years behind schedule and rather heavily over budget. But with a new design team and construction approach, the commission decided the project is still worth the money and the economic benefits it will give the Central Coast and the state in general.
When completed by 2016, the project will shave off 15 to 20 minutes of travel time between Newport and Corvallis and will allow larger semi trucks to use Highway 20 rather than having to resort to Highway 18 to the north. That’s a big cost savings for trucks laden with wood chips and recycled paper and cardboard destined for the Georgia Pacific paper mill at Toledo. Currently the tight hair-pin curves west of Eddyville prevent those trucks from making the curves without having to use both lanes and therefore are prohibited from using Highway 20.
Another large public official contingent from Lincoln County again testified in favor of moving ahead with the project, each taking turns expounding on the economic imperative that the now nearly $365 million project be finished, especially now that enhanced technical expertise is directing the construction. The new designers and engineers have been given the nickname “Dream Team,” and are made up of internationally recognized experts in constructing large scale projects in landslide prone areas around the world.
In sticking with Option 2 as it’s been dubbed, the commission pointed out that the state already has a lot of money invested in Highway 20 re-alignment. They admitted that although money would be saved by scaling it back, the savings wouldn’t be that much less than building the whole enchilada since the state would still have to improve parts of the worst stretches of the highway anway, pay for the clean up of the project’s huge hill cuts and massive earth moving already accomplished, and be required to return nearly $140 million in federal subsidies already invested.
ODOT Public Information Officer Rick Little told News Lincoln County that the when the project is complete the state will know a lot more about how to build major highways through coastal and other soggy mountainous terrain, information that will prove extremely valuable for future highway projects throughout the state, and even across the country.
Little said while some elements of construction will proceed full speed ahead, data collection on ground water content, flow, and resultant earth movement will be gathered by the “Dream Team.” That data will be used to formulate the specific requirements on how to build the road through the area and determine the number of “Mountain Anchors” and ground water drain systems that will be needed to keep the hillsides solidly in place.
So, it’s full speed ahead on the Highway 20 re-alignment project. ODOT said it should be open to traffic sometime in 2016 and the final sticker price will be around $366 million. ODOT officials say the extra spending on the Highway 20 project should not substantially affect other major projects around the state since ODOT has saved money on other just-completed projects, discovered a number of unanticipated revenue sources and from other savings department wide.