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Excavation continues along the westbound lanes of Interstate 84 just west of the Spring Creek exit near La Grande. The work is being done in preparation for a chain-up/removal area. (Chris Baxter/The Observer
Frequent maintenance has Oregon’s highway system ranked among nation’s best
Slow-and-go traffic along Interstate 84 may seem like a pain, but it may be worth it to drive on the nation’s No. 1-ranked rural interstate system.
Oregon was ranked first recently in rural interstate pavement condition and 13th in the nation for its overall highway performance in Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report.
The foundation’s report measures the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-owned roads in 11 categories. Rankings are based on data reported to the federal government in 2009, the most recent year of available statistics.
“We’re happy to hear we’re up there,” said Tom Strandberg, Oregon Department of Transportation’s Region 5 public affairs officer.
ODOT Region 5 Manager Monte Grove attributed the high rankings to frequent maintenance.
“We invest a lot in our interstate system,” Grove said. “We’ve gotten to a good point (with maintenance) and we’re just trying to stay on top of that.”
Evidence of such maintenance can be seen traveling west out of La Grande as drivers encounter multiple construction areas, many of which are part of a large, multi-year project between La Grande and the Kamela Exit 246.
“We’re adding about a half dozen chain-up areas between here and Pendleton,” Grove said. ODOT is also upgrading the pavement, replacing median barriers and doing climbing lane construction. That project is scheduled to be completed in November 2015.
Other interstate projects include installing snow fences near North Powder and Baker City, as well as continuing a statewide effort to install rumble strips along the interstate.
As if ODOT does not seem busy enough, the agency is already looking ahead to enhancement projects in the 2015-18 forecast. A local board has already met to establish a list of projects they would like to see finished in the coming years. They will meet again at the start of next month to whittle that list down to projects within ODOT’s scope.
“The important part about this is, it’s local folks making these decisions,” Strandberg said. “It keeps locals in the driver’s seat of what’s going on.”
Some projects being discussed include 20th Street reconstruction in La Grande, adding a bike path in Cove and correcting the curve at Minam on Highway 82, where a motorcyclist was seriously injured in an accident last weekend. A recommendation from the local board will go before the State Transportation Commission later this year for approval.
Grove said all the construction going on now means drivers need to pay attention.
“Watch that changing speed limit,” he said. The speed along Interstate 84 drops to 55 in multiple locations nearby.
Strandberg added that the construction should not cause any major delays — no more than 15 or 20 minutes — but drivers should plan ahead to avoid problems.
“We just ask people to be patient,” Strandberg said. “We’re trying to make the system efficient and safer.”