ALTERNATIVE TO LADD MIGHT BE PRUDENT

January 23, 2002 12:00 am

Its too late to fire up a debate on whether Pyles Canyon, and not Ladd Canyon, should have been selected more than 30 years ago as the Interstate 84 route from La Grande to Baker City.

Ladd Canyon has a reputation among truckers trying to pass through the Blue Mountains during the winter. And that reputation of Ladd being extremely difficult to traverse is well-deserved this season.

A crosswind that comes whipping through the 10-mile Ladd Canyon stretch, causing whiteouts and snowdrifts, is the culprit. The Oregon Department of Transportation reports it has closed the freeway at Ladd Canyon seven times since Thanksgiving, making this winter the worst in six years.

Sometimes Ladd Canyon is closed for as long as 15 hours, forcing truckers to pull over and wait at the Flying J Travel Plaza or on Island Avenue in La Grande.

Its 30 years too late to reroute Interstate 84 south to Union, and on to Pyles Canyon and North Powder, where sometimes wind and snow conditions are milder than they are in Ladd. Building a new freeway on that east-side route would cost millions of dollars and take several years to complete.

But what about upgrading the Pyles Canyon route to allow trucks and other traffic an alternate road when Ladd is closed? What would be the feasibility of constructing four-lane stretches in places, removing difficult curves and making other improvements so that Pyles is passable in the winter?

The project would be expensive. But with about 8,500 vehicles passing through Ladd Canyon each day, and 48 percent of them trucks, the cost in downtime for the 18-wheelers can be enormous. A higher PUC fee for trucks might be one way to help pay the costs for Pyles improvements.

With this fierce winter as a backdrop, the time might be ripe to study the costs and benefits involved in turning Pyles Canyon into an alternative route when traffic comes to a standstill on Ladd.

CATCH THE EXCITEMENT

Even the greatest winning streaks must come to an end. And the Eastern Oregon womens basketball team found it was not invincible after winning 14 games in a row.

The Mountaineers, ranked 18th in the nation, were outplayed by the Concordia Cavaliers in Portland Saturday night. Eastern was on the short end of an 87-66 score in Cascade Collegiate Conference action.

The loss is disappointing but it does not spoil the joy of racking up 14 consecutive wins after starting the season with a loss to Puget Sound.

The winning streak caused quite a stir in the community with some fans attending an Eastern womens basketball game for the first time ever. Saturdays loss shouldnt damper this enthusiasm. Fans still have much to shout about and should plan to attend at least one home game before the season ends.