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Register-Guard: State Thinks It Has Dodged Holiday Traffic Headache

At the state Department of Transportation, love means never having to say you’re sorry — more than once.

A month ago, the state agency issued an apology to Memorial Day motorists who were backed up in traffic because of construction on Interstate 5 south of Cottage Grove. Traffic was reduced to one lane in each direction to do work in the southbound lanes.

Northbound I-5 traffic was backed up for at least 10 miles on Memorial Day, with delays in some cases lasting more than two hours. That was a lot longer than the 20-minute delays the agency had anticipated.

To add insult to injury, the agency reminded motorists that a similar traffic jam could be expected around the Fourth of July since the repair project, which stretches for seven miles, wasn’t expected to be finished until July 31.

The department said at the time it would send out notices advising motorists to avoid the area if possible during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Instead, after meetings with the contractor, neighbors and others, the agency decided to speed up the timetable and work around the clock in hopes of getting the project’s current phase completed before Independence Day.

On Friday, the state said it expects to have all four I-5 lanes, two southbound and two northbound, open no later than noon on Thursday, July 3.

“We did not want a repeat of the traffic situation we had on Memorial Day,” department spokesman Dan Latham said. “We don’t have the stomach for that again.”

Latham said there were “lots of meetings” at the agency after the Memorial Day debacle.

“The point of view around here was, we can accept one black eye, but we couldn’t take two,” he said. “We just had to do something before Independence Day.”

The decision has meant extra work shifts, extra workers, extra subcontractors — and extra cost. However, Latham said he didn’t know how much the accelerated schedule would increase the price tag for the $18.5 million “I-5 Martin Creek/Curtin Paving” project, which involves the repair or replacement of damaged concrete in several areas of I-5 between the Cottage Grove exit and the exit to Drain.

Latham noted that the project has benefited from the proximity of Rattlesnake Quarry, off Wards Butte Road just south of the Lane-Douglas county line. But there are about a half-dozen families who live next to the quarry, and the adjusted schedule has meant they’ve had to cope with the rumble and dust of trucks coming and going at all hours — including night hours.

“There were a lot of people who made sacrifices for this,” Latham said. “There were a lot of neighbors who have been very cooperative.”

As part of the accelerated schedule, the agency already has reopened the southbound offramp at Exit 162, used by motorists heading to Reedsport and the southern Oregon Coast using state Highway 38.

The freeway offramp was closed for 12 days, instead of the 33 days — through July 18 — that the state originally had anticipated.

McMinnville-based Oregon Mainline Paving, the project’s lead contractor, revised its staging plans and brought in extra workers to accommodate the revised schedule.

Officials were reasonably confident two weeks ago that they could meet the July 4 deadline, “but we didn’t want to go public until we were all sure,” Latham said Friday.

“Now, it seems everyone is very confident” that the new timetable will be met.

Latham offered two caveats, however, about the project:

First, while all I-5 lanes should be open by late next week, they will not all be opened this weekend — and that could mean traffic congestion and delays. Northbound motorists on Sunday, heading home at the conclusion of the weekend, especially should be prepared for a possible bottleneck, Latham said.

Second, the second phase of the paving project, in the interstate’s northbound lanes, is still scheduled for later this year. However, Latham promises that phase won’t begin until after the Labor Day holiday in early September.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_s_wright . Email .

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