Highway 97 plan could mean more traffic signals, U-turn lanes and additional Canal roundabouts (copy)

ODOT considered putting in a concrete median with U-turn lanes, new traffic signals and a "backage road" to help control potential dangerous left turns on South Highway 97, shown in November 2016.

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up to a recent Spokesman story regarding designating a stretch of Highway 97 between Redmond and Madras as a safety corridor.

In response to recent crashes on the U.S. 97 corridor, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has evaluated the safety performance of U.S. 97 between Madras and Bend through reported crash history.

The predominant fatal and severe injury crash types have been head-on crashes and crashes related to turning vehicles at intersections along the rural corridor. Some of the common contributing factors to the crashes included following too closely, speeds too fast for conditions, driver inattention, and driving under the influence of intoxicants. Essentially, driver behavior.

Throughout the past several years, ODOT has implemented several safety countermeasures in effort to reduce the number and severity of crashes along the corridor between Madras and Redmond. These countermeasures include establishing a 55 mph speed zone between Madras and Redmond (following House Bill 3402 speed limit increase), installing rumble strips and reflective pavement markers to reduce lane departure crashes, and installation of dual intersection warning signs to reduce intersection related crashes at Dover Lane, Bear Drive, Iris Lane, Jericho Lane, Culver Highway and O’Neil Highway.

Additionally, flashing beacons were added to intersection warning signs at Dover Lane due to the number of reported crashes at the intersection.

Enforcing traffic safety rulesAs we continue to respond to crashes on the corridor, ODOT is working through education, enforcement and engineering strategies to further improve safety. ODOT is currently evaluating potential projects throughout the state, including this section of U.S. 97, for funding through the data driven All Roads Transportation Safety Program (ARTS) which implements proven safety countermeasures focused on reducing fatal and severe injury crashes.

The possibility of establishing a safety corridor has been investigated for the tent of the travel corridor included in the U.S. 97 Safety Corridor petition. No 10-mile or shorter segment between Redmond and Madras met the qualification criteria for implementing this type of intervention. This is the reason we are looking to partner with law enforcement about specific driver behavior errors, and exploring targeted education programming.

Traffic Safety personnel in Region 4/Central Oregon have been discussing the effectiveness of enforcement and education on this segment of the highway. An interagency meeting has been called to discuss crashes and observed driver behavior with local Law Enforcement agencies (Jefferson and Deschutes counties, and OSP) to help better target education and awareness efforts by our Safety Coordinator and the region personnel. The meeting will also discuss the availability and use of High Visibility Enforcement grants offered by TSD (ODOT Traffic Safety Division).

Reaching out to driversThis fall our Traffic Safety Coordinator, Vanessa Robinson, is collaborating with our statewide communications partner (GARD) in piloting an education and awareness campaign within Region 4 that utilizes strategic geographic locations. By sending these internet (Google) messages to users designated by location, the intention is to reach all types of vehicle users, regardless if they are local or just traveling through.

With success, she hopes to develop similar programing for highways in Central Oregon aimed at reaching people in identified more locations and educating them about the dangers of specific driver behaviors. The diverse mix of commercial and residential users of our state highways has traditionally made reaching these particular user groups difficult. Applying this manner of outreach aims at reducing this difficulty and increasing awareness about safety concerns in our region to anyone in it.

Here is a sample of improvements that ODOT has either implemented or will implement:

  1. Following HB3402 (2016) raising speed limits across the state ODOT worked to retain the 55 mph speed zone between Madras and Redmond that was initially increased to 65 mph as a result of the legislation.
  2. Intersection Warning signs were installed in 2016 at Dover, Bear, Iris, and Culver Highway Intersections along U.S. 97 between Madras and Redmond.
  3. Bend-Redmond Safety Corridor — This project is Phase I of a project that will ultimately be installing median barrier between Bend and Redmond and completing numerous other safety improvements along this stretch including intersection improvements (added acceleration lanes, deceleration lanes, illumination, etc.), clear zone improvements, signing and channelizing improvements, etc. Phase I goes to construction next summer (2021). We anticipate funding additional phases.
  4. U.S. 97 and O’Neil Highway Intersection — Project identified that will install active intersection warning signs at this location.
  5. Terrebonne Project — Project is in the development phases to improve safety at the U.S. 97 Lower Bridge Way Intersection and through the Terrebonne Community.
  6. Jefferson County’s Transportation System Plan update is currently in process and will identify and prioritize safety and operation needs in the County including U.S. 97.

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