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ODOT pitches Bennett Road safety plans

Options included turn restrictions and improvements at Millard Road


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - A five-mile ODOT-designated safety corridor between Scappoose and St. Helens has been recommended for decommissioning, though several proposals are moving forward for $3.2 million in safety improvements. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSONTraffic safety officials overseeing more than a two-year effort to solve some of the safety problems on a five-mile portion of Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens met Thursday to hear Oregon Department of Transportation improvement concepts.

Some of the more popular ideas involve limiting how vehicles exit and enter Bennett Road to and from Highway 30, adding a traffic light at Millard Road and straightening a portion of that road east of the highway, including adding a new access road, so that it becomes the dominant intersection for long-load log trucks making deliveries to a pole manufacturing business in St. Helens, said Columbia County Commissioner Earl Fisher.

Fisher serves as a co-chair with Sen. Betsy Johnson on the U.S. 30 Safety Working Group.

The Millard Road improvements are expected to ease some of the Bennett Road risks by drawing traffic away from the more dangerous intersection.

ODOT officials are expected to return in several months with final plans for the projects and guidelines for how they would be completed, Fisher said. The Thursday meeting was the first local one in several months that addressed the documented Highway 30 safety problems.

Money for the safety improvements, around $3.2 million, had been set aside when ODOT first began its exploration of the safety hazards plaguing the highway section near Bennett Road, including a rash of fatal and serious crashes occurring in 2008 that propelled the highway into the top tier of dangerous roads in the state. Construction of the improvements is expected to start in 2015.

ODOT named the section as one of 13 safety corridors in the state, a designation that carries with it additional funding for safety improvements ranging from rumble strips and roadside reflectors to major capital projects.

The safety corridor designation is based on a complicated ranking system that rates crashes for severity and frequency within a five-year period. The corridor between St. Helens and Scappoose has been recommended for decommissioning, however, as there have been fewer, and less serious, crashes in the five-year window.

“I think they’ve gotten to the place now that those crashes are not within that five-year period,” Fisher said, specifically referencing the series of crashes at Highway 30 and Bennett Road, including a fatality that claimed the life of 28-year-old Jeffrey Little.

Little’s mother, Teri Stoffer, said she is not entirely convinced the safety corridor has been leveraged to its fullest extent, noting its short two-year active period and reports from local law enforcement officers that dangerous speeds are still commonplace.

“It seems to me the safety corridor has been in for too short of a time,” Stoffer said.

She said she likes some of the ideas presented at the Thursday meeting, but still believes there is a need for a traffic light at the Bennett Road intersection — an option not currently on the table due to ODOT traffic engineering concerns. While one proposal calls for limiting that intersection to a right turn-only from the highway and right turn out from Old Portland Road, she said there were concerns from local farmers who want to maintain straight-across access. That, she said, is understandable, but it would compromise the purpose of the turn restrictions.

While Thursday’s meeting was well attended with an estimated 30 people, Stoffer said she would like to see as many as possible turn out on the hope somebody might come forward with a solution.

“The more people who will come to those meetings, the better,” she said. “Some people out there have ideas none of us have thought about. And my thought is I would like to talk to everybody because maybe somebody out there has an idea that is spectacular.”