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Exit 14 businesses suffer through construction delays

ODOT predicts work will be done by end of September
 Posted: 2:00 AM September 06, 2012

Construction delays are expected to cause Oregon Department of Transportation bridge work at Exit 14 to extend through September — and extend the frustration felt by nearby gas station owners who say customers have been cut off from their pumps by traffic cones and detours for too long.

"The contractor makes a mistake, ODOT makes a mistake, but who is losing? I am," Ashland Texaco owner Ken Khosroabadi said. "Bottom line, they should have this done "… this is the third deadline they have missed."

The original plan for the project was to widen the bridge by about two traffic lanes, which has been completed since work started in mid-2010, and to scrape off and pour a new surface layer of concrete above the rebar embedded beneath the road.

The completion date at the time was June 2012, fell behind schedule when demolition crews revealed rotten rebar beneath the road and realized the existing deck couldn't be salvaged, said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming.

Crews with Oklahoma-based contractor Concrete Enterprises poured a new bridge deck in June, and now must complete sidewalks, a median, pave the bridge, and install an ornamental rail and traffic signals, Leaming said.

After that list, landscape work will continue, but the bridge portion of the project will be done, he said.

After discovering the rotten deck, ODOT estimated the project's completion would be pushed back to first week of September.

"A couple of minor things that we wanted to make sure we got right have pushed us to the end of the month," Leaming said. "By the end of the month you'll see the project finished."

Matching the bridge's colored concrete was a challenge for crews and contributed to much of the latest setback, Leaming said. Crews also had to give the deck time to cure before paving over it.

"We appreciate, especially from business owners down there, the patience through the entire project, and from motorists, who have had to navigate through the work," Leaming said. "Each project has its own little surprise, but we're excited about getting this one done, we think it's going to be great addition as a gateway interchange into the state of Oregon."

Khosroabadi, who, along with other business owners in the area and City of Ashland representatives, was included in the initial project planning and design with ODOT, said his patience has worn thin.

"Now, a new bridge is not even worth it," he said.

In the summer of 2009, Khosroabadi's Exit 14 Texaco station was pumping 130,000 to 140,000 gallons of fuel a month, he said, but, for the last three summers, customers have only be purchasing about 60,000 gallons a month during the peak season.

Some of that decline is a result of the recession, Khosroabadi said, comparing the reduction to his downtown Ashland Texaco station, which has experienced a 10 to 15 percent drop in fuel sales since the economy collapsed.

Across the street, Arco owner Paul Newcombe said his pumps have slowed down similarly since bridge work started more than two years ago.

"People don't know if we're opened or if we're closed with all of these cones everywhere," he said. "What they're doing now is just ridiculous."

The latest work, to extend a raised median from the bridge toward Ashland, has reduced Ashland Street down to two lanes, leaving nowhere for Newcombe's fuel delivery trucks to turn around, he said.

Newcombe doesn't know exactly how much business has declined at his Arco station or his Shell station on the opposite side of the bridge since work started, he said, but "it definitely hasn't been the same."

"I am keeping my head above water at least," he said.

Motorists should expect to face intermittent delays on Ashland Street as crews race to finish the bridge before the end of the month, Leaming said.

Paving is scheduled to begin on Sept. 18, he said, and will be completed at night to avoid delaying heavy waves of motorists.

The cost of the art deco-style bridge had added up to about $10 million, Leaming said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.



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