Ancient landslides have again halted a project to straighten U.S. 20 after costing the Oregon Department of Transportation millions of dollars in overruns and adding years to the task.
NEWPORT — Ancient landslides have again halted a project to straighten U.S. 20 after costing the Oregon Department of Transportation millions of dollars in overruns and adding years to the task.
Now, no one can say when the project to eliminate dangerous curves will be completed, how much it will cost, who will pay and how to stop the slides, The Oregonian reported.
State engineers got their first hint of trouble when contractors discovered "bents," or bridge columns, on two massive bridges had moved out of plumb the result of the settling. If the bents continued to move, they could fail, said ODOT project manager Joe Squire.
"That doesn't mean the column falls over, but the concrete might be stressed," said Squire. "The long-term viability is called into question. The concrete could crack."
As they monitored the earth around the bents, engineers discovered ancient landslides they thought they had stopped were moving again.
Engineers haven't figured out why the slides are moving again, but they hope that by monitoring the situation through the rainy season, they might get some answers, Squire said.
"The movement is very slight and subtle, but if you take the amount it moved in a year a half an inch to a couple of inches and multiply it by 75 years, it would exceed the capacity of bridge to withstand that type of movement," said Squire.
The slides could affect four major new bridges — one 210 feet high and the other three each more than 100 feet high.
"All four of these locations have a very large bridge," Squire said. "That's why we are very concerned."
The project to eliminate miles of hairpin curves on U.S. 20 with 6.5 miles of new roadway between Pioneer Mountain and Eddyville got under way in 2005 when ODOT awarded the $150 million project to Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, Calif.
The stretch of highway is notoriously dangerous, with sharp, narrow curves and a high volume of tractor-trailer traffic. The highway is so deadly that locals have sported bumper stickers imploring, "Pray for me, I drive Highway 20."
In 2007, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality levied $240,000 in penalties for water quality violations by Granite Constructors for damaging salmon spawning grounds in the Yaquina River and its tributaries. DEQ also fined ODOT $90,000 for the violations.
The trouble led to disputes between ODOT and Granite, and added up to $61 million in overruns and delayed the finish date originally slated for October 2009 to December 2011.
Squire said he is determined to see the project completed.
"The commitment is there," he said. "We are not going to walk away."