Pedestrians walk alongside construction at the intersection of Free, High and Congress streets, which has closed Free Street to traffic for months, on Thursday. The city has told contractors to reopen the street by Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Portland officials say they’ve ordered contractors to reopen Free Street to traffic by the end of business Wednesday following months of delays on work at one of the city’s busiest intersections.

“I believe they will open the street next Wednesday,” said acting Director of Public Works Mike Murray, though he added the road may periodically close again as work continues on the redesign of Congress Square.

“The idea is to keep that street open as much as possible,” Murray said. “We are running out of (good) weather time and we need to have the street open for winter operations.”

The road has been closed since April. Reopening it would mark an important step in the $7.2 million project, which began last spring, to remake the intersection and neighboring Congress Square Park.

Officials at the time estimated this part of the project – revamping the corner of Free and High streets – would be done by mid-June. The entirety of the first phase, which includes reconfiguring traffic flow and sidewalks around the intersection, would have been completed by June 2023. Murray said the city doesn’t have a new timeline yet.

Patrons eat at Marcy’s Diner on Thursday. The owner of Marcy’s has been vocal about how Free Street being closed to traffic has negatively affected the business. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We haven’t determined next year’s construction schedule yet because we didn’t anticipate there would be a next year,” Murray said.


But even with Free Street expected to reopen to traffic next week, the corner outside the Portland Museum of Art remains under construction and the sidewalk will remain closed. It’s not clear when that work will be finished and the city is bracing for the possibility that winter weather could halt work before it’s done, Murray said.

Drew Straehle, the chief operating officer of Gordon Contracting, the firm working on the first phase of the project, did not respond to phone or email messages Thursday asking about the status of the work. The voicemail boxes for both the office and cell phones of Gordon Contracting President and CEO Brian Howard were full and Howard did not respond to an email or text message asking for comment about the new deadline.

The city and contractor have sparred over delays in the project. In August, Portland said it was considering declaring a contractor default and asked Gordon to meet with its bond company in hopes of speeding up work on the project. City policy requires that all projects over $125,000 be bonded as a way of protecting city funds and guaranteeing work gets done at the cost outlined in a contract.

Construction at the intersection of Free, High and Congress streets has closed Free Street to traffic for months. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Gordon at the time said there was no need for the meeting and the company was committed to finishing the project.

Murray said the bond meeting was held and “we continue to work with the contractor to complete as much of the project as possible before we are forced into a winter shutdown.”

Asked if the city is considering switching contractors, Murray said the current focus is on getting as much done as possible and officials will reassess if they have to stop work during the winter.


“We never anticipated this corner would take as long as it has taken,” he said.

The delays have been caused by a number of issues, including a need last spring to make alterations to underground utility vaults, which set the project back several weeks. The city said that while that issue was resolved in mid-July, Gordon left to work on a project in another community and did not return to the Congress Square site for several weeks.

The company said it ran into a number of unforeseen obstacles, such as a ledge underneath the site, and that delays were caused by a need to renegotiate terms with the city because of changes in the scope of the work.

Construction on Free Street is seen from the window of the neighboring Starbucks on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Recently, bad weather and sub-contractor work have further added to delays, though Murray said they have not led to any more costs to the city.

The months-long closure of Free Street has caused frustration for nearby businesses. In September, the popular Dogfish Bar & Grille closed indefinitely, and the owner said the city’s reconstruction of Congress Square was a factor.

“We understand how frustrating this has been for businesses and residents in the area,” Murray said. “We wish we weren’t still on this phase, but we are working with the contractor, again, to get as much completed as possible before weather conditions prohibit us from doing that.”

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