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First stage of the Aurora-Donald I-5 interchange improvement slated to begin construction in 2022

It's not the ideal construction plan, but it's a needed start.

Planned improvements to the Aurora-Donald interchange at Interstate 5, Exit 278, moved a step closer when Marion County Board of Commissioners gave approval to the Oregon Department of Transportation plan last week.

Marion County is one of a number of stakeholders in the project, which aims to reconfigure the interchange to promote smoother traffic flow and safety. The plan is tentatively scheduled to go before the Oregon Transportation Commission in December.

ODOT Senior Planner Dan Fricke provided the commissioners with a presentation update during the Sept. 30 BOC meeting. No testimony, public or otherwise, was provided during the public hearing, and the commissioners voted in favor of adopting the Aurora-Donald Interchange Area Management Plan into the county's Rural Transportation System Plan.

COURTESY PHOTO: ODOT - Oregon Department of Transportation PowerPoint graphic points out the issues and challenges identified with the Aurora-Donald I-5 interchange.

The preferred alternative is described as a "diverging diamond interchange." It calls for construction of a new I-5 bridge; realignment of I-5 travel lanes; lengthening and widening the north and southbound entrance and exit ramps; and realignment of Ehlen and Bents roads and Dolores Way.

Interchange improvements are expected to be installed in phases, with the first phase costing $50 million and the second phase $29 million, according to Fricke. At this point, phase 1 is fully funded; phase 2 is not.

"If we were able to build this as one phase, the total cost is estimated at $72 million," Fricke said. "We have to build it in phases, so it will come out to about $79 million."

A combination of factors triggers the additional costs, including the mobilization costs associated with restarting a second phase. The bid opening date for the first phase is anticipated to be November of 2021, and the work is expected to require two construction seasons, with the southbound I-5 bridge and Bents Road work done in 2022 and the northbound interstate bridge and Ehlen Road work in 2023.

Commissioner Sam Brentano, who has been involved in ongoing planning for the project, said he strongly preferred to see it unfold in one phase. Nonetheless, the need for the project is urgent enough that initiating the first phase is necessary.

"I have been working for the past year and a half, two years, to get the entire project (done in one phase) for the reasons you heard, and some you haven't," Brentano said. "We could have done the entire two phases in the time it takes to do just one... Wouldn't it be better? Just get it over with and not displace traffic for the construction? We're going to do it once, (and) then — hopefully — do it all over again at some point in the future."

He said safety concerns necessitate moving forward despite not having the ideal option in place.

"It's a huge safety issue right now. That's why I'm all for this particular phase; at least we can get this much done," Brentano added.

"I just want to compliment ODOT on how fast and how efficient you've been moving on this project," Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. "It's really appreciated by us, and, I know, the constituents who live up in that area and travel it every day.

"We'll keep working together and try to find (phase 2 funding)," he added.

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