ODOT pinpoints Highway 6 west of Banks as one of Oregons most hazardous stretches

A midnight rollover crash just west of Banks yesterday is a stark example of why that stretch of Highway 6 is considered one of the most dangerous roadways in the state--and why state troopers have started giving it special attention.

At 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, March 4, an eastbound Ford Explorer driven by 25-year-old Matthew D. Evans of Vancouver, Wash., and carrying his three children, left the road, collided with a guardrail and rolled over into a ditch.

Evans' two-year-old daughter was ejected and taken by ambulance to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. Evans, his five-year-old daughter and six-month-old son all suffered minor injuries.

The crash occurred near milepost 35 on the Wilson River Highway. That's inside a 15-mile segment--from mileposts 45 to 30--recently targeted by Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Last Friday, March 1, six state troopers from North Plains and McMinnville hit those 15 miles of highway, aiming to reduce fatalities and keep people from veering off the road or over the center line. Those driver errors can lead to the kind of "roadway departure crash" so common along that stretch, which saw 216 accidents and 10 fatalities from 2002 to 2011.

From 3 to 7 p.m., the troopers stopped 80 vehicles for a range of violations including speeding, driving while suspended, driving with an open container of alcohol, child safety seat violations and failure to maintain the lane of travel, issuing 10 citations and 95 warnings.

The amped-up patrol was funded by more than $123,000 from ODOT, which will allow Oregon State Police to provide 1,600 hours of overtime enforcement on 18 Oregon highways across the state through September.

Because OSP is short-staffed, it's normally difficult for troopers to maintain their presence on roadways, Lieutenant Gregg Hastings said, but 1,600 more hours will be a big help. “People will see us in those areas, which will help ensure they’re driving safe,” he said.

According to ODOT’s Amanda Sayler, speeding drivers, combined with winding curves, more-extreme weather conditions and dense trees that decrease visibility all make the stretch extra hazardous.

Alcohol just heightens the danger. Evans was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants, Reckless Driving, three counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, three counts of Assault in the fourth degree. He was lodged in the Washington County Jail.

Sayler said ODOT plans to upgrade all the curve-warning signs along the bulk of the Wilson River Highway, from the coast to Banks.

Roadway-departure crashes are greater on state highways than local roads and account for 66 percent of traffic-crash fatalities in Oregon (higher than the national average of 53 percent).

Enhanced signs and markings for curves, adding rumble strips to shoulders and center lines, tree removal, guard-rail updates and traffic-calming measures are all options in ODOT’s statewide improvement plan to reduce accidents.

“We’re hoping to reduce crashes and fatalities,” said ODOT’s Shelley Snow, who thinks educating the public is crucial to preventing future crashes. “It takes a partnership to get these things done; it’s not just one thing that’s going to do it."

ODOT’s goal is to reduce the seven-year average of roadway-departure fatalities by 20 percent by 2016.

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