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ODOT: Safety measures have improved Sandy-Gresham corridor

Agency wants to decommission special safety zone

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is examining the possibility of decommissioning the Highway 26 safety corridor between Sandy and Gresham.

The department instituted the corridor in December 1999 after it found that the 7.3-mile stretch of road had at least 110 percent of the statewide average for motor vehicle accidents.

Now, ODOT officials say that its education, enforcement and engineering efforts have made the corridor safer.

Part of that work included intersection improvements, which brought much-needed traffic signals to Orient Drive and Kelso Road. The project made it so traffic no longer could cross Highway 26 on Kelso Road, so vehicles could not turn left onto the highway from Kelso Road. Both situations caused many deadly 'T-bone' collisions.

Police also stepped up enforcement of traffic laws with an increased presence in the corridor.

'We've been studying for a while, and we've seen a measurable decrease in crash rates in the corridor,' said Shawn Uhlman, ODOT's head of public relations. 'It went from looking at the numbers to realizing we have a great opportunity here.'

Crashes now have fallen below the 110-percent threshold, which qualifies it for decommissioning.

In 1999, when the corridor first began (in December), there were two crashes - one near Gresham and one near Sandy - that killed five people. The program seems to have worked, Uhlman said, since there hasn't been a traffic fatality in the corridor since 2004.

Uhlman said ODOT is at the beginning stages to see if decommissioning the corridor is a viable option at this time.

The department is planning to contact local organizations and community groups for feedback on the issue, possibly sometime this month. No timetable has been established for when the corridor would be decommissioned.

'Basically, it's been in a decommissioned state anyway,' said Jerry Sabel of the Highway 26 Safety Corridor Citizens Advisory Commission. 'It's not being treated as one. The main reason they're able to (decommission the corridor) is the work that was done on Orient Drive and at Kelso; they put a lot of work into that to make it safer.'

SIDEBAR

Traffic fatalities since the safety corridor was established in December 1999:

1999: Four fatalities near Gresham; One fatality near Sandy.

2000: One fatality near Gresham

2001: One fatality near Sandy

2002: One fatality near Sandy

2003: No fatalities

2004: One fatality in the Boring area; One fatality near Sandy.

2005: No fatalities

2006: No fatalities to date