Nearly three years since any actual construction has taken place on an ill-fated 5.5-mile stretch of U.S. 20 near Oregon’s coast, the Oregon Transportation Commission still has a wide-ranging list of possible moves to choose from for the future of the project.
I’ve chronicled the fate of the build—made incredibly difficult because of the landslide-prone area’s propensity to shift and knock bridge bents out of alignment—tucked into the mountains of Oregon throughout the pages of Engineering News-Record.
Construction started in 2005, but by February 2010 work stopped because the effort to straighten out the wildly windy stretch of road with bridges was leading to off-center construction. As earth-moving measurements and historical data were collected, work remained stopped and finally the contractor and the Oregon Dept. of Transportation parted ways in May 2012.
Work started again in summer 2012 to tear down some of the unfinished bridges as crews prepped for the possibility of using box culverts instead. But that doesn’t mean things have picked back up for the project, now facing hundreds of millions of dollars of further cost overruns and the basic questions of: What do we do now?
The transportation commission pushed back a planned December decision into January to spend more time figuring out which of the five options—two regarding completely new alignments, two involving reworking the existing plans and one calling for scrapping the project altogether—it wants to pursue.
With landslide issues still at the forefront of the discussions of what to do with U.S. 20—and the reason for the December-to-January delay as staff refined information for the commissioners—the total cost of the entire 10-plus-mile project has bloated from an original $150 million in 2005 to a projected price of almost $400 million.
Recent work in the area also included adding horizontal drains to alleviate ground water rushes in the area, a plan that engineers say may eventually work to help stabilize the area, according to an article in The Oregonian. But, as with a lot of things regarding the U.S. 20 project, only time will tell.
Worked into those five proposals is at least one that pushes the completion date of the project into 2016, giving time to see if landslide mitigation and ground water removal efforts have worked. With so much time and money already invested in the project, don’t be surprised to see a final solution similar to the original plan, just a few years and hundreds of millions of dollars later.
Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He has also written for TIME, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.