The long overdue overpass at Blackwell Hill Road and Interstate 5 may be reaching completion. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Expect delays ... to end

Almost $700,000 in fines have been racked up by a company building the Seven Oaks Interchange as frustrated transportation officials hope the end is in sight for a project plagued by two years of delays.

"This is a problem project here in the Rogue Valley," said Gary Leaming, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation. "We've struggled with the contractor."

The overpass and reconstruction of bridges just to the north of the interchange on Interstate 5 started with Ross Bros. Construction, which also built the problem-plagued Depot Street Bridge in Rogue River.

The fines for delays on the Rogue River project also amounted to $700,000, according to Jackson County officials.

The current contractor, Legacy Contracting Inc. of Salem, a successor to Ross Bros., is being assessed $1,000 a day in penalties by the Oregon Department of Transportation for failing to meet the deadline for the interchange work. The project, which started in March 2006, was scheduled to be complete in October 2008.

The $31 million interchange replaces the Exit 35 overpass and two bridges over the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad tracks.

Almost two years after the deadline passed, motorists, who have become accustomed to shifting road conditions during construction, finally will see lanes and off-ramps shift into their final position.

Leaming said this is a milestone in the project, signaling that the contractor should be able to wrap up the work by the end of summer, and motorists will no longer have to negotiate a construction zone.

However, there is still some work left before the contractors are done.

The old southbound bridge over the railroad tracks needs to be demolished, and some other road work needs to be completed.

Some of the delays in completing the interchange were caused by reinforcing walls that had to be rebuilt and engineering problems that had to be fixed, ODOT discovered.

Although the $700,000 in fines could offset some of the cost of the project, Leaming said it's too early to say what the final budget for the interchange will be because of claims filed by the contractor to reflect changes in the project.

"It is not a cut-and-dried type of thing," he said.

Ross Bros. Construction and other construction companies owned by Steven M. Ross were banned from working on public projects in Oregon as part of a January 2009 settlement with the Oregon Department of Justice, which accused Ross of civil racketeering. The agreement stated all parties specifically denied any wrongdoing and allowed Ross' successors and family to create a new corporation to engage in public works contracting.

Jeff Howell, president of Legacy Contracting and a former partner in Ross Bros., didn't return calls Friday afternoon.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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