A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Why so close? Now we know

Written January 27th, 2015 by Hasso Hering
The new crash barrier right next to the fast lane south of Albany.

The new crash barrier right next to the fast lane south of Albany.

Why is ODOT placing the new median cable barrier on I-5 so close to the fast lanes in both directions, south and north? Thanks to Rick Little, the answer is at hand.

I asked about this on Jan. 22, when I snapped the photo on my way south from Albany. The barrier seemed unusually close to the left-hand lane, not leaving a whole lot of space in case someone has car trouble and has to pull off the freeway on that side.

Little is ODOT’s public information officer for this area. He saw the question about the barriers, and Monday he came back with the answer: “The reason why we placed them so close (8 feet from the edge of pavement) is that much of the median consists of recognized wetlands. Obviously, we have to mitigate or avoid construction in those locations.”

Protected wetlands in the middle of the freeway? That tells you how far we have gone off the rails with state and federal laws intended to protect lands which water-dependent wildlife and plants need. For decades now, the laws have been extended to land that is dry except when it rains. And there’s no longer a connection with natural habitat. After all, who needs a gaggle of waterfowl in the middle of I-5?

Little says a barrier close to the highway rather than in the middle of the median is still effective in preventing cross-over crashes, as ODOT learned with a barrier on US 26 in the Mt. Hood area.

And as for the assertion by one of our commenters that pulling off to the left is illegal anyway, that’s true but there are exceptions, and one of those is when a vehicle breaks down and the driver “can’t avoid stopping or leaving the disabled vehicle in the otherwise prohibited location.”

Let’s just hope that when the barrier is finished, nobody’s vehicle breaks down on that side of the road. (hh)

9 responses to “Why so close? Now we know”

  1. Ted Salmons says:

    I always try to give lawmakers the benefit of the doubt and assume that no group of sane people start out to write a stupid law. But every time I see something like this come up, I start to doubt the logic of my own thoughts.

  2. James Carrick says:

    I traveled to Eugene in the past week and took I-5 south one direction and noticed the same thing Hasso wrote about on Jan. 22, and like him, wondered about the placement. I concluded that median is very soft in the winter and it was probably placed where it is because the wet, low median center simply didn’t allow access without tearing the place up during the wet season. I could have easily accepted that reasoning……..Now, Hasso reports the ODOT spokesman said something else which is much harder to accept: Referring to wetlands “…… Obviously, we have to mitigate or avoid construction in those locations.”

    Really? If that’s the case, why is the cable barrier located in the middle in numerous other medians where they have been installed for some time? I still suspect the current soft conditions played a big role in the decision to install it where it is, and that if the barrier were being installed during the dry months, it would be placed in the center, where it really belongs. Perhaps this is the price for rushing to get these barriers in place ASAP? Fine, but wetlands???? Only during half the year. That median is as hard (harder?) as a typical front lawn from July through September.

    It seems that instead of a good, old-fashioned common sense based reason, ODOT feels it’s necessary to trot out old, tired environment related logic, which then invites reactions such as Hasso’s “Protected wetlands in the middle of the freeway? That tells you how far we have gone off the rails with state and federal laws intended to protect lands which water-dependent wildlife and plants need.”

    I could not agree more. The state and ODOT has clearly forgotten the value of the K.I.S.S. method of doing things. Just keep it simple, including the explanations. Don’t try to impress us with “concern for the environment.” Just get it done……correctly…..the first time, please.

    • Mike Martin says:

      The “excuse” for the placement is sillier than the placement. I would hope that I could, if going off the road to the left, have time to gain control of my vehicle before hitting the barrier. This placement leaves little chance of that. Also we will not be able to go very far to the left to avoid an accident.

  3. max stalnaker says:

    The interstate system was ike’s version of the obama stimulus program with the additional benefit of creating our once profitable suburban sprawl. And I have seen geese grazing in interstate medians. So maybe the question to ask is what is the cost benefit of doing the project as is vs mitigation vs putting the money into your favorite project. Of course what is a benefit is an issue. If it makes my life better then it is a benefit. You, not so much. And I tend to avoid i5 anyway.

  4. Bobby says:

    Thanks for the follow up.

    You do all appreciate that the wetlands were there before the freeway, right? So really, ODOT is getting all the benefits from destroying them (building freeways on either side) without any of the costs of mitigation for those acres upon acres of median.

    I appreciate that not everyone cares about wetlands or thinks mitigation is a good way to handle their loss, but really, if there’s anyone who should feel cheated by the policy that “if I don’t build directly on top of it I don’t have to replace it,” it’s the ducks.

  5. Richard Vannice says:

    If the “WETLANDS” regulations had been in effect when I-5 was built, at least from Albany south to Eugene, it probably would have been placed on pillars. There is so much area that would have probably been classed as wetlands the construction would have been cost prohibitive or built with so many curves in it that the distance between the two locations would be much,. much more than it is. My father and I were farming on some of the area taken for the freeway and I am familiar with the soil conditions in the area.

  6. Bill Kapaun says:

    I think calling these ‘Wetlands” it a bit like closing the barn door after the livestock have left.
    Consider all the oil drippings and other chemicals that get washed into these “Wetlands”, are they really viable to fall under that classification.
    Maybe we should rename them “swales”?

  7. Mike Ransom says:

    speaking of wetlands, there “used” to be one, full of wildlife, now under the pile of rock debris at LBCC, near the Luckiamute Bldg. They used it as a dumping ground for construction debris, it appears, and now it can’t breathe OR be parked on. If only those animals could vote . . .

  8. Stephanie says:

    The “wetland” law is in effect because “the public” complained, A LOT, not because the government was bored. There is so much “red tape” they can’t even fill a pothole without a written up request as to why it needs to be done, unless it is an emergency &/or life threatening (deep ones could kill a motorcycle driver if hit just right). They would LOVE to put it in the middle or over to the side a little more. No matter what they do, someone is going to complain. Protect the wetlands, why is it so close to the lanes? Fill the pothole, why are you messing with traffic to fill a pothole? Kill the noxious weeds, don’t spray weed killer. I am going to buy this house right next to the freeway, the freeway is too loud you have to put up walls. They can only do so much, but no matter what they do someone WILL complain. So just know this… They aren’t doing something to just piss you off, they are doing it a certain way because the other way pissed off someone else. They look at ALL available options before doing something, they aren’t just winging it.


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