Deaths spur action on I-5 barrier

The state police provided this far-way shot of Thursday's crossover crash scene.

The state police provided this far-way shot of Thursday's crossover crash scene.

It was in October 2012, almost exactly two years ago, that I wrote in my newly launched blog about ODOT installing a $2.6 milllion cable barrier in the median along 35 miles of I-5 in Lane and Linn counties, up to the Harrisburg exit. And I complained that while the state planned to extend this safety feature northward, we would have to wait until 2016-18 for this to be done.

Now, the latest fatal crossover crashes seem to have persuaded state officials that waiting is no longer an option. Friday afternoon, ODOT announced that Gov. Kitzhaber, "in consultation with ODOT Director Matthew Garrett, today called for ODOT to expedite plans to install cable barriers on sections of Interstate 5’s median between Salem to Albany in a project designed to reduce the number of crossover freeway crashes." ODOT said it had been planning to call for bids as early as next February. "But after consulting with the governor, the department decided to implement an emergency procurement process and now expects to complete the work much sooner."

The department referred to two fatal crossover crashes, the most recent just north of Albany on Thursday, which followed one on Sept. 24 in Salem that killed two State Hospital professionals, one of them the husband of a Portland city commissioner.

ODOT said it would activate an emergency process to negotiate a contract for the median barrier. Next week, the agency will contact  contractors that have built cable barriers for the department before. It expects bids by the end of the week and hopes to pick a contractor by Nov. 5. Construction should start in mid-November.

It is sad that it took additional deaths and what sounds like an order from the governor to get ODOT to set aside its normally long time lines, but it will be good to see this barrier finally being installed. ODOT points out, though, that barriers don't prevent all accidents. They just make it less likely for a loss of control on the freeway to result in a head-on collision in the opposite lanes.

ODOT made a point of citing the governor's urging in its decision to install the barrier from Albany to Salem on an emergency basis. Normally Kitzhaber subjects issues to long studies. Perhaps he acted decisively in this case because Election Day is only a few days away. If so, we are seeing the benefits of a healthy competition for votes. (hh)


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