The Oregon Dept. of Transportation's new plans for the state's historically plagued $217-million U.S. 20 project will focus on culverts as the only viable way to deal with chronic issues of unstable soils and shifting bridge bents.

Yaquina River Constructors, the design-build team led by Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction Co. with subsidiaries, had begun work on the 6.5-mile project in 2006. Near the coast, the new Pioneer Mountain-to-Eddyville route is intended to bypass a windy 10-mile mountainous stretch.

But the project came to a halt when Yaquina's newly constructed bridge bents shifted due to construction in the landslide-prone area. In February 2010, work stopped at four bridge locations—at lengths of 600, 600, 750 and 1,100 ft—all within a 2.3-mile portion, even while work on the rest of the project reached completion (ENR 7/30/07 p. 11).

Construction resumed in 2008, but lasting solutions proved elusive. As both sides filed suit against each other, no mitigation was found to fix the bridge issues as concerns mounted that the bridge abutments were still shifting. ODOT issued a notice of default to Yaquina in March.

Both sides had been silent until they announced the joint termination of the contract on May 3. Under that agreement, Yaquina will demobilize from the project, both parties will waive claims against each other, the notice of default will be rescinded, and Yaquina will pay ODOT $15 million.

"After issuing the notice of default, ODOT determined it to be in the public's best interests to settle for a $15-million payment and take control of the project and resume construction this year," says ODOT spokesman Richard Little. "This decision avoided a protracted legal battle that would have taken valuable time and money. The public has been asking for the project to be put back on track and completed. The settlement was the best way to accomplish that."

In a statement, Granite President and CEO James Roberts said, "We are pleased to have reached a resolution to what has been an extremely challenging project for all parties involved." He added, "While we were confident in our position regarding the disputes with ODOT, we believed it to be in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders to resolve this matter and avoid the cost and distraction of protracted litigation."

Still unsure of how to handle the partially constructed, shifting bridges, ODOT will abandon the effort to cross these drainages with a bridge, says Little. It is planning to shift the road alignment slightly to avoid the active landslide areas and cross the drainages with culverts.

In conjunction with Portland's Cornforth Consultants, an ODOT design team will finalize the new plans this year. ODOT is advertising a new first phase—at $10 million to $20 million—to remove groundwater in areas along the project path and perform erosion control and structure demolition, with an expectation that construction will start in July. Additional phases will be bid out separately. Little says ODOT is confident it will have an open roadway in 2015.