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The Oregon Department of Transportation said the addition of a westbound truck climbing lane on the steep Spring Creek Grade west of La Grande, above, will alleviate bottlenecks. Construction of the third lane is one component of a $43 million project aimed at improving travel along Interstate 84 between the Second Street undercrossing in La Grande and the Kamela Interchange west of the city. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
The Oregon Department of Transportation last week announced a planned $43 million highway project on Interstate 84 near La Grande that includes an additional travel lane on the steep Spring Creek Grade west of the city.
ODOT contractors will launch the sweeping project between the Second Street undercrossing in La Grande and the Kamela Interchange at Exit 246 next spring, and complete it sometime in 2015. The project will include pavement resurfacing, replacement of a functionally obsolete median barrier, bridge repairs, rock fall corrections, truck chain-up area improvements, plus construction of the westbound truck climbing lane on the Spring Creek hill.
During the three-year project, travelers in the area can expect some inconveniences. ODOT Project Leader Ken Patterson said drivers should be prepared for lane restrictions and closure of the Exit 259 westbound on-ramp during the 2014 and 2015 construction seasons.
“Because the freeway will be reduced to single-lane travel to accommodate improvements to the westbound truck chain-up area near the Union County Fairgrounds, there won’t be enough room for traffic to safely merge from the westbound on-ramp,” Patterson said.
He said the eastbound off-ramp at Exit 259 will remain open.
The project’s centerpiece is the truck climbing lane on the 6 percent Spring Creek Grade. Patterson said that will be a major improvement for travelers, especially those trying to pass slow moving trucks.
“It’s a historic bottleneck on the freeway due to slow speeds of commercial vehicles up the hill,” Patterson said.
He said that during winter weather, spinouts result in frequent closures that can take several hours to clear up.
“The new third travel lane will alleviate some of these issues and keep traffic moving,” Patterson said.
ODOT said new or extended truck chain-up areas will be constructed along the side of the interstate to provide more room for commercial vehicles to install and remove chains during winter weather. A new 10-foot-wide chain-up area will be added along the eastbound freeway near milepost 253.5.
Existing eastbound and westbound chain-up sites at milepost 249 will be extended to create more room for trucks.
The agency said that if funding allows, lighting will be installed at the chain-up areas.
The existing chain-up area near
Patterson said ODOT wants to hear from people who may have objections to the added lighting near the Union County Fairgrounds.
“With existing vegetation and streetlights, we don’t anticipate serious impacts, but we want to hear from folks who may have concerns before we proceed with adding lights at that location,” Patterson said.
Other components of the project include lane resurfacing, minor bridge repairs, plus adjustments to the rock cut near milepost 259 to reduce the amount of debris falling on to the highway. The rock fall work will widen an existing bench halfway up the wall and add a berm to help catch falling materials.
ODOT said several funding sources are paying for the project, including Jobs and Transportation Act funds approved by the 2009 Oregon Legislature, Federal Interstate maintenance funds, plus transportation safety and operations money.
ODOT said comments about the project were gathered in a public meeting last June.