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ODOT improving safety of Highway 26 on Mount Hood

Construction has started and will continue through fall 2016


Construction work is under way on an Oregon Department of Transportation project to improve the safety of Highway 26 near Government Camp.

Kimberly Dinwiddie, a community affairs officer for ODOT, said the project was planned after a safety audit done on a seven mile stretch of Highway 26 revealed there had been several fatal and serious-injury crashes in the area, many due to lane crossover. It also brought attention to the fact that ODOT was continuously sending maintenance crews out to deal with rock slides.

"We realized that in order to keep people safe, we needed to do something," she said.Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The Oregon Department of Transportation has begun a safety project on Highway 26 hoping to reduce the areas number of fatal and serious injury accidents.

In a section of highway between Kiwanis Camp Road to just east of the Mirror Lake trailhead, there were 109 crashes from 2002 to 2011. Of those crashes, 30 were lane crossover crashes (11 head-on) in which four people were killed and 88 injured.

In order to reduce this number, the project, which started in late June 2014, will make several changes to the stretch of highway from milepost 49.2 to milepost 57.45. During the months of April through October, ODOT contractors will work for the next two years to push the rock slopes a minimum of 27 feet from the road, install a barrier between the east and westbound lanes of the highway and repave an eight-mile section of the road from Kiwanis Camp Road to Highway 35. In doing these things, the project also will extend the downhill passing lanes to a total of 1,400 feet.

The majority of the work scheduled to be completed in 2014 will consist of mainly excavating soil and rock and installing drainage on either side of the highway. The project will remove nearly 500,000 cubic yards of soil and rock from around the highway.

In 2015 and 2016, construction will take place on paving and the installation of retaining walls and barriers.Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Several curves of Highway 26 are narrow and cut close to rock cliffs. Construction will work to push back the rocks and widen the lanes.

While excavating has been going on for the last two months, blasting is about to begin.

“Rock falls have historically occurred within the project corridor,” said Stephen Hay, an engineering geologist with ODOT, “and as recently as the winter of 2013 near Mirror Lake.”

The construction crews will perform controlled blasting, said Hay. The rock will be removed from five locations, including Map Curve.

Road closures will be necessary during blasting, which is scheduled to occur between now and the end of October 2014. The closures will happen for up to one hour from 5:30-7:30 p.m. up to three days a week Monday through Thursday. The first closure is scheduled from 5:30-6:30 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 4. Subsequent closures also will happen Tuesday, Sept. 9, Thursday, Sept. 11, and Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Future closures will be posted weekly at us26mthoodsafety.com.

“Rock will still fall occasionally from these slopes, due to expansion and contraction of the rock face over time,” Hay said. “But when this project is complete, the rock will now have room to fall away from the road.”

There is currently a temporary concrete barrier along the stretch of highway to protect traffic from excavation and blasting.

Because Highway 26 runs directly through the heart of the Mt. Hood National Forest, ODOT employees have been working to find a way to assure safety for the environment as well.

Mary Young, environmental coordinator for ODOT, said that while the landscape will look different during construction the change won’t be permanent.

“However, we will work closely with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a replanting plan to restore this area to the natural beauty you see today,” she said.

Young added that all materials that are removed from the forest will be returned to the forest: trees will be reused for fish habitat and brush and trees will become mulch.

For more information on the Mt. Hood Highway Safety and Preservation Project, visit us26mthoodsafety.com.