Hwy. 34 loses ‘safety’ label

There was good news and bad news -- and then some more good news -- in the latest announcement from ODOT concerning Oregon Highway 34 from Interstate 5 to the Corvallis Bypass.

The good news was that over five years through 2012, the rate of fatal and serious-injury crashes on those 10 miles of five-lane asphalt had fallen far below the statewide average for similar highways. Those types of accidents numbered one in 2008, four in 2009, two in 2010 and three each in '11 and '12. For this, ODOT credits a number of road improvements along with public cooperation.

Fewer accidents, that's the main good news. The bad news is that the reduction in accidents is causing the Oregon Department of Transportation to "decommission" or cancel the designation of the highway as a safety corridor, a designation established in 1993. As of July 25, the department will remove the safety corridor signs including those that ask drivers to turn on their lights and warn them of double fines.

Why is that bad news? Because the highway, especially the segment between Tangent and the bypass, is a nightmare to drive because of speeders. ODOT spokesman Rick Little, who drives there often, says he's the only one observing the speed limit. The speed limit itself -- 55 mph most of the way, 50 east of Tangent and then 40 near I-5 --  won't change with the decommissioning. But if exceeding the limit is a problem now, even with corridor signs up, it's likely to get worse when the signs are gone.

The rest of the good news: ODOT says it will continue to make improvements on the road. Next year it will extend a separate bike route on the north side of the highway from N.E. Wolcott Street, where it now ends, eastward to Riverside Drive. Together with widening the narrow shoulders in a segment of Riverside Drive, which the Linn County Road Department plans to do this fall, this will make for a much safer bike route between southwest Albany and Corvallis. (hh)


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