Lane County celebrates Stony Point realignment

The Stony Point Realignment Project has moved some 70,000 cubic yards of earth to stabilize landslides, soften the sharp curves in the road and provide six-foot wide shoulders for bicyclists.

Lane County Public Works celebrated the approaching completion of its Stony Point Realignment Project at Lorane Grange on Monday (Nov. 8), inviting community members and stakeholders to hear updates on its four-phase Territorial Highway project.

The Stony Point project, which is just Phase 1 of a larger plan to improve road safety on Territorial Highway, targeted an area between Gillespie Corners and the community of Lorane by stabilizing three landslides at Stony Point, softening the sharp curves of the road, adding six-foot shoulders to accommodate people biking and paving the road.

The work began in June 2020 and continued over two construction seasons.

“We are so proud that — after years of working with the community and neighbors — the Stony Point area is now stable and much safer for all road users,” said Lane County Engineer Peggy Keppler. “This was the largest road building project that Lane County has taken on in decades and it was truly a community effort.”

County staff were effuse in their praise for the community’s patience, cooperation and input during the process.

Gary Thompson, a Lorane area resident since 1951, said he was impressed with the construction and was excited to see what was to come next.

“It’s such a big improvement to see what’s happened now,” he said. “I mean, it’s the difference between daylight and dark.”

The event was also attended by Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich, whose district covers the length of Territorial Highway.

As an avid cyclist, Bozievich remarked on his own impressions of biking on the road and testified to its need for upgrading.

To complete the $5.4 million Stony Point Realignment Project, 70,000 cubic yards of earth were moved, including 20,000 cubic yards of unusable soil from the landslide areas. A total of 44 40-foot-long steel piles were driven 40 feet into the ground to help stabilize slope.

Most of the unusable soil was relocated, by agreement, to neighboring properties, and quality soil was sourced from nearby areas to reduce the number of heavy truck trips related to the project by at least 20,000. 

The project also used 4,400 tons of asphalt, 17,000 tons of aggregate base (for the road), 34,000 square feet of wire and rock-facing material and 110,000 square yards of technical fabric.

The project had originally been set to complete its fourth phase in 2023, but plans have since changed dramatically. Now the second phase is likely to begin as late as 2024 and precise dates have yet to be announced.

Keppler said the rising cost of construction has put a hamper on the county’s ability to keep the schedule. However, she added that the county was “highly likely” to be awarded upcoming grants to get Phase 2 off the ground.

“We’re submitting the last paperwork that will be turned in January 29, but we are at the top of the list on those,” she said. “And so we should hear shortly after that.”

Under the plan, Phase 2 construction will address the northern part of the corridor at Gillespie Corners. The curves of the road here will also be “softened” and two bridges will be raised and widened.

Phase 3’s construction will realign the corners of a segment between Easy Acres Drive and Hamm Road.

Phase 4 will finish off construction on the corridor’s southern half between Territorial Lane and Cottage Grove-Lorane Road, implementing improvements of the latter’s intersection and more softening of curves along the roadway.

When all is said and done, the total cost is estimated to be around $32 million.

Though the mood of community members in the Lorane Grange on Monday was joyful, the tragic genesis for the project made the celebration bittersweet.

Momentum for the project was initially generated in response to the tragic death of cyclist Jane Higdon on May 31, 2006. Higdon was bicycling in a group of four on Territorial Highway when she was struck and killed by a Kenworth truck.

In the years following the tragedy, efforts to address the highway’s dangers were slow going, partly due to jurisdictional control resting with the state.

In 2014, Lane County applied for and successfully secured $440,000 from the Transportation Community and System Preservation Program for a planning process to involve the community in finding a design solution.

The passage of Keep Oregon Moving, Oregon’s landmark transportation package (HB 2017), enabled a jurisdictional change of ownership from the State of Oregon to Lane County, which was a decisive turning point for the project.

County officials interviewed stakeholders including bicycle riding groups, freight companies, local land holders and area residents. Community input from these meetings indicated a desire to protect the natural environment and preserve the rural character of the roadway while softening sharp curves and widening the shoulders.

“The community has been backing this program, right from the very beginning,” said Keppler.

As with previous public meetings on the project, GEAR (Greater Eugene Area Riders) attended the Monday Lorane meeting by bike.

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