After several crashes were reported on the flyover, ODOT says it will do whatever it takes to fix the problem

by: FILE PHOTO - ODOT will record traffic patterns during rainy weather to determine what, if anything, caused several crashes on the overpass of Highway 217 earlier this year.Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation say they will be putting up new signs and using video footage to see if they can spot what caused several car crashes on the Highway 217 flyover.

In May, several cars crashed on the northbound highway interchange from Interstate 5 to Highway 217, with four crashes occurring on the same day.

The crashes have puzzled ODOT officials who first thought that the cause might have been a loosening joint in the flyover, which has been slowly coming apart since the interchange was built and has seen repeated attempts to grind it back into place.

Dave Thompson, a spokesman with ODOT said on Thursday that after studying the northbound flyover from Interstate 5, crews could find no structural issues that would lead to the increase in crashes.

“Our review of historical data shows speed too fast for conditions has played a role in almost two-thirds of all 82 reported crashes on the ramp in an 11.5-year time period,” he said.

The overpass has a posted speed limit of 35 mph, and crews installed a temporary electronic reader board and additional signs to warn drivers to slow down.

To make the road safer, ODOT will re-seal the deck next month and Thompson said that plans are in the works to install a large, permanent electronic warning sign at the ramp sometime this fall, which will warn drivers when wet conditions could make the overpass more slippery.

“We are taking even more steps to raise awareness that the advisory speed is 35 mph,” said Jason Tell, ODOT manager for the Portland area. “And wet roads require greater care when driving, especially on any ramp.”

ODOT will also use its traffic cameras to record traffic patterns during wet and slippery conditions, Thompson said.

“ODOT is committed to maintaining a safe and efficient highway system,” Tell said. “And we also ask drivers to do their part: Please follow the advisory speed on all ramps.”

Some of the drivers involved in crashes on the overpass have filed tort claims alleging that ODOT was negligent with the overpass’ construction.

“Honestly, I’m afraid we might come to the conclusion that there is nothing that we can determine and everyone will call us liars because we are being sued,” Thompson told The Times earlier this month. “If we find that we can do anything to fix or improve with the road, we will.”

Inspectors examined the joint this summer after the crashes were reported and found no problems, he said. That matches findings from the bridge’s inspection in January, which was performed as part of routine maintenance.

According to ODOT, the condition of the joint has not noticeably changed since 2006. Engineers also examined the flyover’s foundations, piers and deck, which didn’t yield any clues either.

A friction test of the bridge was inconclusive as well. Some places had seen reduced friction, allowing for more cars to slide, but others have better friction, ODOT officials said.

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