By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
The race is on.
The Chemawa Road reconstruction project finally got restarted this week. The $3.5 million Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) project was supposed to resume in the spring, but more issues with utilities – the same problem that prevented the project from being done last year – pushed things back again.
With the contractor back at work, the big question is whether the job will be done by the time the new school year at McNary High School starts on Sept. 2.
As mentioned in past issues of the Keizertimes, one of the main parts involves new turn lanes and a traffic light at the intersection of Chemawa Road and Celtic Way, the road where MHS is located.
“Our goal right now is to get the project finished this construction season,” said Lou Torres, public affairs specialist for ODOT. “It could go into October, but our goal is to get done by the end of September. We would like to get (the part by McNary) done by the time the school year starts, but there is no guarantee.”
Until last week, it wasn’t known when the project would be restarted.
Shane Ottosen, the ODOT project manager, told the Keizertimes on July 2 there was a “real good chance” the project would get restarted this week.
“It will be going through this summer,” Ottosen said. “There’s quite a bit of work left. There is a signal and turn lanes still to do. I wish it was quicker. We’ve been trying to get up and running, especially with the good weather we’ve been having.”
Ottosen said one issue with a project being delayed is ensuring workers are available and not tied up with other work.
“The contractor has stepped up and said he would have the staff,” he said. “That’s always a problem when you push off a project.”
Delays have led to widespread frustration with the project.
“This has been really tough on us,” Ottosen said. “We’re not used to this, either. We need to get this done for the Keizer community, that’s for sure.”
Torres said delays on projects aren’t unusual.
“Those happen,” he said. “They can be caused by a number of different reasons, especially with urban projects like this one. You can have a lot of right of way to acquire. You also have utilities that can be a real headache. You need a lot of things to fall into place. On this project, they didn’t fall into place. We were frustrated as well. We’ll try to get this done as soon as possible.”
Frustration was also expressed at Monday’s Keizer City Council meeting, as mayor Lore Christopher sought an update on the project from Public Works director Bill Lawyer.
“Bill, explain why we have little or no control,” Christopher said. “This has been very problematic. We’ve been as frustrated as anyone else.”
Lawyer said the federal funding received for the project had to run through ODOT and there was ODOT staff available when the project was first budgeted, due to the downturn in the economy. Lawyer noted he wasn’t aware the project was restarting again until he saw work being done Monday morning.
Lawyer has offered various options to help speed up the program.
“I support (the contractor) closing a lane at 7 a.m. or working Saturdays if needed,” Lawyer said. “I also offered the option to ODOT staff that we close the road to through traffic if that will have the contractor get through the project faster.”
According to Lawyer, one reason for his frustration is being a problem fixer but not having control over problems, a sentiment shared by Christopher.
“It’s been so ugly,” she lamented.