Millard, Bennett construction delayed
Construction at two intersections along Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens has been extended to summer 2022.
In a press release, ODOT said that the contractor working on the project "had already begun construction on the project but had to halt work when utility conflicts were encountered, since work is being conducted in stages."
The contractors were apparently unaware that utility lines were present and would have to be relocated.
"The utility relocations include gas, water, power and communications lines. The gas line relocation has been recently completed. However, relocations must be completed separately which extends the time needed to complete the work," the ODOT press release explained.
An ODOT spokesperson, Louis Torres, said that the utility lines must be relocated "and the railroad needs to begin its work before we can resume road construction."
"Travelers can continue to expect an active construction zone," Torres added.
ODOT said that all businesses in the project area "are accessible through the installed detours."
But the owner of Material Magic (previously Fibers and Stitches) says that isn't entirely true.
Though Material Magic can still be accessed through the parking lot of a neighboring business, owner Jaime Gatlin said that many of her customers have been unable to get through that businesses' parking lot, which is frequently blocked by large trucks and is too steep for some vehicles. The driveway that leads directly to Material Magic from Highway 30 is blocked off for the construction.
Gatlin said a significant portion of her business is from people who see the business while driving by and decide to stop in.
"I have a business on the highway, so there's a lot of business that's, 'Oh hey, look, a quilt shop!'" Gatlin explained.
With the area crowded by construction, and the most obvious entrance to her business cut off, many of those would-be customers are deciding not to bother navigating the detours, Gatlin said.
"It's quite a hit to survive all the ups and downs that a business has to go through for COVID," only to now face more than a year of limited access to her shop, Gatlin said.
Like many stores, at various points in the pandemic, Material Magic was closed for in-store shopping, open for appointments only, and now open for browsing.
With the construction, Gatlin estimated that foot — or more often, car — traffic is down 50%.
Torres said ODOT staff "are very much aware of some business-related issues."
"Unfortunately, there is no fund to compensate businesses for any inconvenience during construction," Torres said.
Ultimately, the project will add a traffic signal at Columbia River Highway and Millard Road, widen Millard Road at the intersection, widen the right turn lane from the highway onto Bennett Road, add a median to block left turns from Bennett Road onto the highway, and upgrade rail crossings at both intersections.
Torres said that ODOT staff "were expecting the railroad to actively begin working on its part of the project." Now, the railroad work isn't expected to start until next year.
Torres referred questions about the holdup on railroad construction to Portland & Western Railroad, owned by Genesee & Wyoming. A spokesperson for the company did not respond to a request for comment.
The project was budgeted at $7.5 million. Torres said the department does not yet know if the project will remain within budget.
Gatlin said that she's tried to increase her presence on Facebook to show the public that the store exists and is still open for business. But from her shop, she also sees a construction site that she says has sat empty, with no work completed for weeks.
"I'm a mom-and-pop business here, and I've survived COVID," Gatlin said. "I'm not going to watch my business die."
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