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Highway 30 safety corridor to be decommissioned

ODOT plans safety improvement projects in '16, '17

Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - A road sign on Highway 30 south of St. Helens marks the northern limit of the safety corridor that the Oregon Department of Transportation is decommissioning next month. An ODOT spokesman said the safety corridor has achieved its goal of reducing crashes and is no longer needed.After almost four years, the safety corridor designation for Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens will be decommissioned next month, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced Monday, Nov. 17.

The safety corridor, which was designated in March 2011, has contributed to a decline in motor vehicle crashes along that stretch of Highway 30, according to an ODOT spokesman. The average crash rate for the corridor has been 21 percent lower than the state average for “similar roads” since 2010, ODOT said.

Lou Torres said Monday that the safety corridor status has given the state and local partners the means for increased driver education, highway patrols and safety improvements, including additional signage and reflective lighting on the roadway.

“I think all of those things working together really helped us to bring down the crash rate,” said Torres.

The decommissioning of the safety corridor will be effective Monday, Dec. 8. Road signs declaring the 5-mile stretch of highway to be a safety corridor will be taken down by that date, according to ODOT.

“This is really good news, because we've been able to really ratchet down the fatal and serious injuries in that corridor,” Torres said.

In March 2012, the Spotlight reported that the Highway 30 safety corridor was likely to be decommissioned in 2013, and in December 2012, it reported that an ODOT assessment recommended it for decommissioning.

Torres said the decommissioning had to follow “a process we have to go through.”

“We wanted to bring the community along on it, because they don't always understand why we decommission,” said Torres, by way of explaining the seeming delay.

The state can only have 13 designated safety corridors at one time. Currently, it has seven, according to a master list on the ODOT website.

Other safety corridors in the greater Portland metropolitan area include a 39-mile stretch of Highway 26 along the south side of Mount Hood and a 12-mile section of Highway 99E between Oregon City and Barlow.

'We're not going away'

Although the safety corridor designation is being retired, Torres said ODOT remains committed to safety improvements planned for Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens.

The state plans to install a centerline “rumble strip,” already in place on the highway south of the Columbia County line, from south of Scappoose through Columbia City in 2016. The year after that, it has scheduled a $5.5 million construction project to reshape the intersections of Bennett and Millard roads with Highway 30 in Warren.

The latter intersection, which is currently controlled by stop signs on Millard Road and marked by flashing yellow lights over Highway 30, will become signalized — the only such intersection in between Scappoose and St. Helens' city limits. Meanwhile, the Bennett Road intersection will be altered to disallow left turns from Bennett Road onto Highway 30, which can be a harrowing traffic operation.

Photo Credit: FILE - Road signs alerting motorists of potential intrusion by long-load trucks into other lanes of travel are among the features installed along Highway 30 during its 'safety corridor' designation, which was granted in March 2011. The safety corridor is slated for decommissioning on Dec. 8.“What's clearly evident here is we're not going away,” Torres said. “We're going to continue to address safety issues where we can along that corridor.”

At least one resident of the area does not think ODOT has gone far enough.

Teri Stoffer, a volunteer member of the work group formed to advise ODOT on traffic safety issues along Highway 30 between Scappoose and St. Helens, said, “I wanted a light at Bennett Road, but apparently you have to work your way out from the urban area.”

Stoffer said she is hoping that once the Millard Road intersection is signalized, a traffic signal at the Bennett Road intersection will follow.

Stoffer is also wary of ODOT decommissioning the safety corridor.

“I understand why they're doing it, because the numbers no longer meet the criteria,” she said. “I'm not sure they gave it long enough to see how the numbers average out.”

While Stoffer said she believes more drivers are obeying the speed limit along the safety corridor than there were a few years ago, she said she hopes the improved traffic behavior does not revert to form once the designation is gone.

“My worry is that as soon as the safety corridor no longer is in effect that, of course, things will go back to the way they were before,” she said.

But Torres said it is typical for safety corridors to be decommissioned once ODOT is confident that the crash rate has declined.

“The safety corridor worked the way it was supposed to, and that's the way it usually works,” he said.