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ODOT finds no faults with troublesome flyover

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - ODOT officials have warned for months that drivers should slow down while crossing Interstate 5 onto Highway 217Officials with the Oregon Department of Transportation say they are still working to determine the cause of several crashes on the overpass from Interstate 5 to Highway 217, and plan on adding more friction to the road in order to stop crashes from occurring in the future.

In May, several cars crashed on the highway interchange, with four crashes occuring on the same day.

Don Hamilton, a spokesman with ODOT, said part of reason for the crashes might be a problem with a joint connecting two slabs of concrete.

The joint is slowly becoming disconnected, Hamilton said, which might cause drivers speeding through the 35 mph overpass to lose control of their vehicles, especially in wet conditions.

But ODOT spokesman Dave Thompson said that after extensive testing on the overpass, that may not be the case.

“It turns out that we’re not through with our investigations,” Thompson told The Times on Monday.

“There’s a good bump at the joint, no one is trying to deny the joint is raised, but it is within engineering tolerances. By itself, it wouldn’t be a source of issue if you were driving the speed limit.”

Thompson said that crews will be increasing friction on the flyover in order to make it harder for cars to lose control, but said that whether that will involve a new deck seal or grinding the surface of the highway to make it rougher hasn’t been determined yet.

“We are all feeling the pain,” Thompson said. “But it takes as long as it takes to get these installed. We will have to close the ramp when we get ready to do it, so we need to plan it out thoroughly.”

ODOT officials will also be installing a permanent electronic sign warning drivers to slow when road conditions pose a threat, such as in rain or snow, Thompson said.

Slow down, ODOT says

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

“We are trying to say, ‘Hey, hey, notice this. Please,” Thompson said. “We want people to be safe and will do whatever we can to make it safer. If we figure out something to do, we will do it.”

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

“We are going to be doing more tests here pretty quickly, but we haven’t found anything to find that the ramp is the problem,” Thompson said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not there and we just haven’t found it yet, but it could truly be an issue of speed in wet conditions.”

Thompson said that police reports from all of the crashes are not yet available, so ODOT crews have focused their investigation on structural problems and testing the friction of the road.

Information through 2012 shows a total of 82 crashes on the highway since the flyover was built in 2001, Thompson said, but hardly any of those were related to the problematic joint, although crews have dealt with the troublesome joint in the past.

“The joint has not been any sort of a problem for drivers from 2001 to 2012,” Thompson said. “It’s there, we all notice it, but it has not been the cause of crashes.”

Since 2001, ODOT crews have had to deal with the joint several times, grinding the metal into place.

Thompson said he can’t comment on the lawsuits, but said that investigators will continue to search for any problems with the flyover.

“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 said. “If we find that we can do anything to fix or improve with the road, we will.”

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