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Fire chief raises concerns over highway project

Hoodland chief says proposed barrier will create safety threats


Mic EbyA proposed Oregon Department of Transportation highway safety project has Hoodland Fire District Chief Mic Eby concerned about safety.

The proposal would involve comprehensive changes, beginning early next year, to the stretch of Highway 26 between mileposts 49 and 57, just east of Camp Creek and just west of the Warm Springs exit.

Citing high incidents of accidents involving head-on collisions as well as rock slides, ODOT intends to cut back the rock slope, resurface the road, extend the passing lanes and install a median barrier. The project could take several years to complete.

The median barrier is the element that causes Eby the most concern.

“It’s a safety issue,” Eby said of the barrier plans. “It’s full of things that we don’t consider safe. When you put that barrier up, that’s going to produce a whole new set of problems, some we don’t even know about.”

Eby explained that wrecks will occur within that 1.5 mile stretch where the barrier will be installed.

“We’re going to have to go against traffic to get to the emergency, or we’re going to have to go up and around to the next exit,” Eby said. “The other option would be to stop on the opposite side and leap over the barrier, which compromises safety also.”

A solution to the problem, by said, would be to include barrier breaks along the route, so that emergency vehicle can respond more easily.

Convincing ODOT to agree to barrier breaks, however, has been a bit of a challenge.

“This week they’ve given us two breaks,” he said. “I asked for three, but they gave me two. I’m thinking of asking for five now, so that they’ll end up giving me the breaks we need.”

Eby said the best-case scenario would be the elimination of the median barrier.

“I would say no barrier would be better,” he said. “But if we had to have one, I think the breaks are the safest idea.”

Eby said the road maintenance arm of ODOT — a separate entity from the engineering arm — also wants to see barrier breaks, allowing for easier movement of snow plows.

An ODOT-sponsored study found a record of 301 crashes along this highway stretch between 2002 and 2011, and gives mention to head-on collisions in its plans to construct the barrier.

But Eby said such collisions make up a “very small” part of his department’s work load.

“Traffic wise, winter is the worst,” Eby said, “because it’s bumper to bumper all the way up, with people putting their chains on and going up skiing. I can’t remember a real cross traffic head-on in many years. We still get them, but they’re not very common at all.”

ODOT personnel had not responded to requests for comment for this article as of press time.