GOLD BEACH The U.S. Forest Service is planning an unprecedented reconstruction project for the Agness Road.

The scope of the project was explained to citizens Monday and Tuesday nights in Agness and Gold Beach by Diana St. Marie, an assistant forest engineer.

The sheer volume of work needed in the 22-mile project is staggering. Some of the culverts are up to 144 inches in diameter, buried under 50-60 feet of earth. Approximately 240 culverts will have to be replaced.

Fault lines run down from the mountains, across the Rogue River bed and across the road. Patching has resulted in asphalt 11 feet deep in some places. Repairs will have to be made in 53 unstable sites.

Five bridges need to be repaired on a road that is the only real link to Gold Beach for the residents of Agness and Illahe.

Worse yet, the project will take from three to five years to complete because of restrictions for endangered wildlife and fire seasons.

In the end, all 22 miles will have new asphalt overlay, complete with guard rails and signs.

Nearby forest service roads are scheduled to be improved to serve as detours, but they would add several hours to the travel time to Gold Beach.

The forest service is faced with five potential road closures of 30 to 45 days each.

St. Marie said the forest service will use expensive cutting-edge technology to minimize or even eliminate road closures.

She also met with the school superintendent and with emergency responders to discuss ideas and options.

Among the ideas for the school is having students stay in Gold Beach with relatives during road closures.

Another idea is having a bus come up from Gold Beach to meet one coming from Agness, if a path could be kept open through the construction.

It might be possible to hold school at Agness for a time. Jet boats were also discussed as a possible busing system, but there would be liability issues.

St. Marie said, Anyone who drives that road knows it needs work. No one in the Gold Beach audience of 20 people argued with that statement.

One man who drives the road regularly said that potholes deep enough to damage vehicles have been neglected most of the year.

St. Marie said one of the areas he was talking about had actually been fixed four times during the summer.

She said the asphalt is now 11 feet deep.

She said the forest service is trying to keep the road passable until the big project begins.

St. Marie said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, helped put $10 million in the forest service budget for the project.

She said the forest service should be able to award a contract for the first part of the project by September, with construction starting in the summer of 2002.

The road will be reconstructed from milepost 9.6 near Lobster Creek to the end of the pavement at milepost 31.5.

A survey crew has already been working in the unstable areas.

Some of the 240 culverts will be excavated and removed, and some will be replaced with new culverts.

St. Marie said most culverts along the Agness Road have been in the ground for 40 years. The typical life expectancy is 25 to 30 years. Many of the bottoms have deteriorated and failed.

Conventional replacement of the Quosatana tributary culvert would require about a quarter mile of material, 50-60 feet deep, to be removed and replaced.

To avoid a road closure of 30 days, new trenchless technology will be tried on the culvert. It will be rammed out with the larger pipe that will replace it.

Slip-lining is another type of trenchless technology. A plastic pipe is inserted into a failing culvert. Liquid grout fills the space between the old and new pipes. When it hardens, the life of the existing culvert is extended for decades. The similar spiral-wound technology is another way to line a failing culvert.

Work on the unstable areas of the road will include construction of trench drains and retaining walls, and realigning the road.

Again, new technology should keep the road open most of the time. Reinforcing panels allow trenches to be cut 20 feet deep. Geo-grid reinforced fill material will also be used in many unstable sites.

Bridge repairs will include upgrading railings and installing approach railings. The bridges will be jacked up so worn-out bearings can be replaced.

Portable bridges should allow the forest service to keep at least one lane of traffic open at all times. If they work, they could be used at several sites at once.

Construction will be restricted whenever the work takes place within a quarter mile of certain species.

Work would be banned from April 1 to Aug. 6 within a quarter mile of marbled murrelet nesting sites. Limited restrictions would apply from Aug. 6 to Sept. 15.

Restrictions near spotted owl sites apply from March 1 to June 30. Osprey closures run from March 1 to Aug. 30.

Port Orford cedar root disease requires work to be done in the dry season only, when fire restrictions apply.

Surveys will be done to figure out exactly where the problem areas might be.

The construction, which may drag out for up to five years, could force road closures affecting school buses, emergency response, tourists and commuters, said St. Marie. The restrictions leave the forest service little flexibility, she said.

The project is still in the planning stages, and the forest service is looking for public comments, ideas and options. Those comments must be signed to have any legal standing.

Send comments to U.S. Forest Service, Agness Road Project, attention Bill Blackwell, 29279 Ellensburg Ave., Gold Beach OR 97444, or call (541) 247-3600.

St. Marie said the forest service has even found water lines run through its culverts that it didnt know about.

She said thats not a problem, unless they remove a culvert during the reconstruction and accidentally break someones water line because they didnt know it was there.

The forest service will keep the public informed about construction and any road closures through newspapers, radio, letters to residents and flyers posted in stores. There will also be more public meetings. Curry County Roadmaster Dan Crumley thanked the forest service for taking a hard look at alternative technologies. He said open cuts to replace culverts would be a terrible burden.

St. Marie in turn thanked Crumley for bringing that technology to the attention of the forest service.

She said it is expensive technology, but that it balances out against the costs of digging and running flagging operations on the road. St. Marie said the forest service knows of about 50 types of trenchless technology out there right now, but hasnt contacted any providers yet.

A member of the audience asked if more turnouts for slow traffic could be designed into the reconstructed road.

St. Marie said project planning hasnt gotten that far yet. She said the entire road now has double yellow lines because of its poor condition. She said when it is put back the way it used to be, passing lanes will be restored.