January 20, 2002 11:00 pm
BRIDGE PROJECTS: Six I-84 bridges are slated for replacement, including this one at Lower Perry. (ODOT photo).
BRIDGE PROJECTS: Six I-84 bridges are slated for replacement, including this one at Lower Perry. (ODOT photo).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

OK, so Eastern Oregon just gained approval for $65 million in state funding for highway projects. Now what?

Well, work wont start tomorrow on any of the 25 regional highway preservation, new construction or bridge repair projects, said Mary Martini of the La Grande office of the Oregon Department of Transportation. She is the Region 5 area manager.

But engineers and designers are sharpening their pencils to begin the process. Martini said some of the projects can begin by this summer, especially those that will use an accelerated design-build concept.

However, most projects will require extensive engineering to be done, and mapping a plan so traffic especially on the Interstate can be kept flowing while construction is going on. In addition, the state must go through the process of floating the bonds to pay for startup of the process. Officials plan to work on the bonding aspect of the programs, which total $400 million statewide, between April and August.

The bonds will be repaid from vehicle title fees, various other Department of Motor Vehicle fees and utility permit fees.

The project that will most affect La Grande and Union County residents involves the replacement of the six Interstate 84 bridges just west of La Grande.

Obviously, you cant rip them all out at the same time, Martini said, so a schedule will be worked out to keep traffic flowing in both directions.

Well try to minimize traffic problems as much as possible, Martini said.

Even with a speeded up program because the bridges are deteriorating rapidly and already have load limitations on them actual construction at the bridge sites wont begin until next years construction season, Martini said.

And it will take until 2007 to completely replace all the structures, she said. Actual construction on the two Lower Perry bridges will begin next year, the Upper Perry bridges will be replaced in 2004 and the Grand Ronde/Union Pacific Railroad bridges will be built in 2006.

The latest price tag for work on the six bridges is $39.4 million.

Contractors will be spending the next year designing the new bridges, she said, so the public wont see much on-site activity, although there will be some preliminary work periodically.

Because ODOT is using the design-build concept, which lets the state award a bid to a single contractor who will do all aspects of the project, the actual on-site work that begins in 2003 will be among the first projects launched.

A long-term project is the one ODOT is calling the Oregon Highway 82 Alternative Route Project.

Officials estimate it will be done over a 10-year period. It involves modernizing La Grande and Island City streets connecting with Highway 82 so that 26th Street, 27th Street, Cove Avenue, Buchanan Lane and McAlister Road become a parallel travel route to the state highway. It should also provide a shortcut for westbound Interstate 84 traffic to get onto Highway 82.

The state is providing $9 million for the project, with the two cities and Union County chipping in $947,995 more.

This massive project will be broken into components, with not all the work being done at one time, Martini said.

Anderson Perry is doing some design work on this project, Martini said. We will start on the south end of McAlister between Buchanan and Highway 30. Our plan is to get that segment completed, with a good pavement down this summer. Weve still got some things to work out, such as identifying a left-turn lane at R.D. Mac. It will still be a two-lane road, but we will provide improved shoulders and a bike area.

She said the Buchanan segment from McAlister to the Interstate 84 bridge will be done in 2003, as will some work on 26th Street and the extension of 26th across Island Avenue.

Besides some county bridges which won funding during Wednesdays Transportation Commission meeting in Salem, another major project for Union County was the $2,787,750 plan to repave, build curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bike and parking lanes and planting strips on both sides of Second Street in North Powder.

ODOT officials were generally pleased with the process that distributed the money. The selection of the projects marks the end of a public involvement process that started in July.

Since that time, ODOTs Region 5 has worked closely with the committees set up, called Area Commissions on Transportation, in each area, as well as the city and county officials and other stakeholders representing communities throughout Eastern Oregon, Martini said.

The modernization and preservation projects selected for funding are the projects the local communities put high on their priority list. Now that the selection process is over, we can start working to get these built in partnership with local governments, which will be doing some of the work, Martini said.

State officials also view the work as boosting the states economy and improving the unemployment rate.

Designing and building these projects will support hundreds of family-wage jobs. After the projects are completed, the highways will continue to strengthen our economy by allowing people and products to move more efficiently, said Steve Corey of Pendleton.

Corey is chairman of the Transportation Commission.