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Contractor expects substantial completion of Molalla Avenue project by Feb. 17


PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - A northbound view of Molalla Avenue from the east side of the street shows fresh pavement and newly installed trees and light fixtures on the sidewalk. Both lanes of traffic were opened up on Dec. 23.

Traveling through downtown Molalla just got a whole lot easier after both lanes of Molalla Avenue were opened up for through traffic on Dec. 23.

But while it looks nice and makes driving through town a possibility now, there is still work to be done, said city Public Works Director Gerald Fisher.

A contract completion date was Nov. 30, and with the latest inclement weather days, the new completion date is now Jan. 6, Fisher said.

That's just the scheduled completion date, however. The Salem-based contractor, M.L. Houck Construction Company, expects "substantial completion" by Feb. 17.

There is a clause in the contract that provides for $1,000 per day in liquidated damages, and Fisher said those "unspent funds can be used on other urban renewal capital projects at a later date."

"The contractor understands that there will be liquidated damages beyond the due date, and they anticipate to be completed on or before Feb. 17," Fisher said. "They may finish before that and reduce the amount of liquidated damages."

The original contract total was $2,059,551, but has seen a project increase of 3.5 percent, bringing the current total to $2,131,850.69.

The to-do list

Approximately 85 to 90 percent of the Molalla Avenue construction project has been completed at this point, Fisher said.

What remains to be completed includes the waterline from Robbins Street to E. Heintz Street, balancing of curb on the west side of Molalla Avenue, the installation of a bike plaza at Long Park, the balance of street trees and streetlights, the final lift of asphalt, and signing and striping of the street.

If you've driven northbound on Molalla Avenue recently, you might have noticed a raised storm drain just before Robbins Street that floods the whole east lane whenever there is rainfall. That will be fixed when the asphalt has been lifted up.

"Once the final lift of asphalt is installed, the street will completely drain, and all the small intermittent puddles will go away," Fisher said. "We are continuing to ask drivers to slow down, obey the 25 MPH speed limit, and watch for pedestrians and construction workers."

Part of the road striping includes a new crosswalk at Long Park near the three-way stop at Molalla Avenue and Robbins Street.

"Most of Molalla Avenue is in a commercial business district, and drivers need to be aware of their surroundings and lower their speeds," Fisher said. "There will also be a new mid-block pedestrian crossing at Long Park, so drivers will need to pay attention to the new improvements compared to what they were used to with the old roadway."

Unexpected hindrances

While the expected substantial completion date for the project is three months past the original scheduled contract finish date, the project itself came with more than its fair share of obstructions.

"The contractor ran into underground abandoned fuel tanks that no one had record of, unmapped and very old underground (water/sewer/storm), unlocated fiber lines, and buildings set at varying elevations," Fisher said.

PIONEER PHOTO: CONNER WILLIAMS - A northbound view of Molalla Avenue from the intersection of Ross Street at the beginning of October 2016.

"I have heard and read that people in the community think this kind of work should have only taken two months," he said. "Clearly these folks have never talked to me about what was involved on this project. Based on their comments, I can also infer that they have never designed, constructed, or managed a project of this scope or cost."

Fisher also referred to a recent letter to the Editor in the Pioneer.

He noted that there will be issues whenever infrastructure is rebuilt in a developed area.

"In the end, the community will get a brand new downtown that other communities would love to have," Fisher said. "Folks should be grateful that the mayor and council members saw the value of improving the infrastructure in Molalla's downtown business district and had vision to fund the projects that they have to date.

"For decades, the community has done very little to rehabilitate and replace its infrastructure," he said. "Now the community is in a situation where they have to play catch up to fix its aging infrastructure, and that all comes at a cost in both money and inconvenience."

Insight from affected businesses

There's no question that the construction has caused difficulties for many of the businesses located in the downtown area (see "Downtown businesses still experiencing construction blues" in the Oct. 5 issue of the Pioneer).

But now that the roadway has been paved, and traffic is flowing, things are looking up.

"Nancy McGlasson, manager of LBJ Printing, said she will "maybe eventually" be encouraged by the recent opening of both lanes of traffic.

"I definitely think that it will make a difference as far as business picking up," McGlasson said. "I think that it definitely will help."

McGlasson then said that she had construction workers from Houck come into her store and explain that there were unanticipated occurrences that slowed down the process.

"They just ran into things that they didn't foresee happening, and so it was out of their control, it wasn't like they were dragging their feet on it," she said.

Fritzie Bronec, an employee of Family Thrift Center, said there were days when she couldn't get into the parking lot, so she had to use the gravel path that connects West Ross Street to the lot.

"We're glad it looks like there may be a light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "We had shoppers every day, but it sure cut down on it; we'll be very happy when the construction is done."

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