Family of teen killed at intersection wants action
Update - Kaylee Tawzer's mother frustrated by officials' request for more time to study spot
It's been nearly six months since Kathy Tawzer's 16-year-old daughter Kaylee died in an auto wreck at the intersection of Highway 47 and Verboort Road, but the pain just won't go away.
Tawzer makes a daily trek to Kaylee's gravesite to remember her daughter, a vivacious politics junkie whose smile brightened every room in the family's Hillsboro home.
'I know she's with me wherever I go but I still go every day,' Kathy Tawzer said. 'People think it's weird, but I have to. It's a way for me to honor her as her mom.'
Last week, Tawzer got more bad news when officials from the Oregon Department of Transportation said that they wouldn't install a traffic light at the intersection until more testing is done.
That process could take up to two years.
The delay frustrates Tawzer, who believes that improvements made to the increasingly busy intersection in 2005 made it more difficult for drivers to determine what lane oncoming traffic was traveling in, and ultimately resulted in Kaylee's death.
Tawzer says that she's talked to other drivers who feel the intersection is dangerous and says her efforts to have ODOT put a signal on the highway is a matter of public safety.
'It's not going to bring my daughter back,' she said. 'It's not going to heal my pain, but it could stop someone else from hurting like I'm hurting.'
State officials say they take Tawzer's concerns seriously. That's partly why ODOT did everything but install a light at the intersection in December after listening to community members following Kaylee's death.
The agency installed flashing warning lights before the intersection and improved the markings at the intersection itself. They also lowered the speed limit on the stretch of Highway 47 north of Forest Grove.
'Adding the flasher in advance of the intersection has helped calm traffic down and we also have a little better law enforcement out there,' said Steve Harry, a local community affairs manager for ODOT.
However, Harry said, although it seems counterintuitive, not all intersections are made safer by adding a traffic light.
Harry said that ODOT is wary of making another change to the intersection before figuring out if the problem has already been solved, but that study process could take up to two years.
Harry noted that within two years, a planned extension of David Hill Road to Highway 47 could be well underway. The addition of such an east-west arterial road could reduce traffic on Verboort Road, which turns into Purdin Road to the west of Highway 47.
And there may need to be a signal at the future David Hill/Highway 47 crossroads.
Given that there's already a signal at the intersection of Highway 47 and Sunset Drive, the addition of two more lights on the still-rural highway could lead to more accidents, Harry said. It's possible, he said, that drivers would either ignore red lights or make driving mistakes because they fail to anticipate the stop.
Experience has taught the agency's traffic engineers that placing stoplights on rural highways 'can create the kinds of crashes that we've all but eliminated with the safety projects,' Harry said.
Harry said the call for more time shouldn't be viewed as a 'delay' but a recognition that 'this process is really going to take us longer than people would like it to.'
But Tawzer thinks the safety concerns that residents have expressed demand more speed.
At 6 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, March 12, a group of Kaylee's friends will hold a vigil for the Banks High School student at the intersection where she died. They'll release 17 balloons to celebrate her birthday.
Her mother hopes she can be there, but she hasn't been to the crash site since shortly after her daughter died.
'For me,' she said, 'it's just so empty without her.'