Senator on Hwy 20 fiasco: 'plenty of blame to go around'

Senator on Hwy 20 fiasco: 'plenty of blame to go around'
Boom goes the dynamite

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Transportation is facing another $90 million overrun to realign Highway 20 through the Coast Range, and the agency now says it's also considering the option of abandoning a six-mile stretch near Eddyville where unstable hillsides threaten landslides.

The department will request the rest of the money it needs to complete the project — $176 million — at the Dec. 19 meeting of the Oregon Transportation Commission, The Register-Guard reported Wednesday.

The agency also will give the commission the option of not moving forward with the realignment. Instead the department would attempt to widen or straighten the 10-mile stretch of winding road the new highway is to replace.

The project was originally estimated at $140 million. Now it's close to $400 million and the agency wants to move the opening date to 2016.

"We continue to struggle with this project," Paul Mather, highway division administrator, told an interim Oregon Senate Committee on Tuesday. "We want to make sure we're looking at the full range of options that we have in front of us."

While most of the landslides have been recorded in the valleys, significant soil movement is now being registered above the hillside cuts through which the roadway would run. Large cracks in three or four spots indicate the potential for major landslides hitting the highway.

"We have to deal with those to proceed with the project," Mather told the committee.

For the realignment to move forward, the department says it would need to buttress the cuts and install more drains in the hillsides.

The department could cover about half of the $176 million with money on hand from other projects that came in below estimates and $15 million the agency received in a settlement with the project's original contractor, Granite Construction of Watsonville, Calif.

The rest of the money would have to come from Oregon's allocation of federal transportation funding, potentially at the expense of other transportation projects throughout the state.

In fiscal years 2013 and 2014, the department expects to receive a combined $970 million from the federal government.

Several legislators expressed concern Tuesday about the project's costs.

"I personally believe that there's plenty of blame to go around to all sorts of parties involved with this project," said Sen. Chris Edwards of Eugene. "I just hope the commission is really considering all the options on the table . At some point, you have to say, 'OK, enough is enough, this isn't working out.'?"

But, Sen. Fred Girod of Stayton said he would hate to see work abandoned.

"If we're looking at connecting rural Oregon to the I-5 corridor, I think this is an essential element to that," he said.

Asked what the ODOT might have done differently in hindsight, Mather said it was a mistake to go with a "design-build" model for the project, outsourcing the design to the contractor.

When Granite's landslide mitigation plan proved insufficient, the company argued that the construction site was different than ODOT had represented. In the May settlement Granite was freed from finishing the project and agreed to return $15 million of the $173 million it had been paid.

"Might have been better to use the experienced engineers at ODOT," said Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield.


Information from: The Register-Guard,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.