August 28, 2007

Terrebonne traffic nightmare

Imagine what it would be like in Redmond if we had jump across the Dry Canyon every time we needed to get to the other side of town and you have an idea what it must be like to live in Terrebonne.

This unincorporated community of a few thousand souls is firmly divided by one of the busiest highways in Oregon. With the post office, banks and other commercial businesses on one side of the highway and a school, fire station and other businesses on the other - and an equal amount of homes on both - Terrebonne is cleaved in two by what might as well be a freeway for all its traffic control.

Earlier this month a man was killed crossing the highway. Yes, he wasn't in the designated crosswalk and yes, it was at night and he wore dark clothes, but even if all rules had been followed pedestrians don't stand a chance against a semi going 40 mph.

For years Terrebonne residents have been battling the Oregon Department of Transportation regarding the livability and overall safety of their town. After much pushing, complaining, and cajoling ODOT finally reduced the highway speed through Terrebonne from 55 mph to 40 mph. Any discussion of lights or further reductions has met with resistance from the state.

According to ODOT's own Web site speed limits on state roads are determined by its environment: "Whether it is a narrow two-lane road or a modern controlled access freeway -- and whether the surrounding area is urban, suburban, or rural..." But ODOT also uses the "85 percent rule": It picks a speed at which 85 percent or less of the cars are traveling and uses that as the speed limit: "This is used as an indication of the speed most drivers feel is reasonable and safe."

Strange, nothing in there about pedestrians. At what speed to do they feel safe near roadways? Seems like an important consideration. Yes, streets are for cars but cars mean people and people do live and get around outside of their cars on occasion.

Why some small towns divided by highways get lower speed limits - think of Moro or John Day - and some do not remains a mystery only the policy makers at ODOT understand.
Historically ODOT has made no secret of the fact that its number one priority is to get as many cars through an area as fast and efficiently as possible.

A fine goal - as long as those who live and work around the highway, and those who cross it and walk near it, don't get forgotten in the quest to make things easier for automobiles and trucks who clearly have a many-ton advantage already.

-- Spokesman editorial

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