Winter throws I-84 drivers knuckleball

By Observer editorial February 22, 2013 09:59 am
Black ice, whiteouts, fog — regular drivers of Interstate 84 see it all, as Old Man Winter throws us his annual knuckleball. The freeway that connects La Grande and the rest of Northeast Oregon to the outside world has a well-deserved reputation for being difficult to drive in the winter.

The series concluding in today’s Observer reveals the real truth about the freeway. It may be more dangerous in summer than in winter. And speed kills.

Speed plays a major factor in I-84 crashes. Of the 51 fatal crashes on I-84 between Pendleton and Ontario that occurred from 2002 through 2011, 30 involved a driver who either exceeded the speed limit or was driving too fast for the conditions, according to ODOT.

More fatalities occur in summer than in winter. Many crashes occur because drivers using cruise control hit ice.

ODOT’s maintenance crews do a tremendous job keeping I-84 negotiable. They work throughout the late fall, winter and early spring to make sure the freeway stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, keeping the wheels of commerce spinning and helping all of us go over the hills and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

Road conditions can change rapidly. Drivers need to take advantage of the dozen variable message signs between Pendleton and Ontario ODOT has set up in the last 10 years. Drivers should also make regular use of the 24/7 website, www.tripcheck.com, that gives up-to-the-minute reports on every highway maintained by the agency.

Want to know the condition of the highway at Meacham? At Hood River? At Grants Pass? All are visible via road cams. Tripcheck can even be accessed with a cell phone, so drivers can be better prepared for what’s ahead.

The bigger message of the I-84 series is this. Truckers need to chain up when required. Drivers need to drive at a prudent speed for conditions — not too fast and not too slow. If we all do our part, we can make the highway safer. That way, when Old Man Winter throws his knuckleball, we won’t strike out.