Josh Benham

If you go

What: Oregon Department of Transportation public meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: ODOT Region Headquarters, 3012 Island Ave.

On the agenda: Ladd Canyon Freight and Culvert Improvement Project

Travelers going east on Interstate 84 from La Grande know the hazards of Ladd Canyon all too well.

But help is on the way, and a public meeting will offer details of an improvement project years in the making.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is holding a public meeting to inform local residents on the I-84 Ladd Canyon Freight and Culvert Improvement Project from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the ODOT Region Headquarters, situated at 3012 Island Ave., La Grande.

According to the department of transportation, the project will widen the section of the eastbound road on I-84 in the Ladd Canyon area — about six miles east of La Grande — between mileposts 270 and 273 to install a third lane for truck traffic going up the steep 6 percent grade.

The project, estimated at $20.4 million, will go out to bid this fall, with construction occurring between spring and fall in 2018 and 2019. The Ladd Canyon road traffic impacts will be limited to 2018, according to the department of transportation, and construction is scheduled to start in April 2018.

ODOT will share project plans and collect feedback from affected property owners and users of the route Tuesday. Tom Strandberg, ODOT Region 5 public affairs spokesperson, said the state agency wanted to give the public a full year in advance to prepare. He said information has already been sent out to property owners in the area.

“It’s an opportunity to show up and express any concerns,” Strandberg said. “We’re hoping (the public) will understand. We’re going to do what we can to limit impacts, but there’s no way around it. There will be some inconvenience, but there’s definitely a huge benefit.”

The project will also replace the I-84 Ladd Creek Interchange Bridge at exit 270 with a box culvert, a structure to manage and store storm water, that can be used to allow water to flow under a road from one side to the other, to allow sufficient room for the extra travel lane while reducing icy conditions that crop up at the bridge deck in the winter.

“We have problems with bridges. There’s not a whole lot of insulation,” Strandberg said. “With a culvert you can add layers of fill material. It’ll look a lot like it does now, (but) with a tunnel rather than an open bridge.”

The grade and the curve combine in snowy months to create a treacherous section of road that sees frequent interstate closures, spinouts and accidents. Strandberg said Ladd Canyon is well-known to truckers and drivers as a dangerous stretch, and the department of transportation has been planning the details of the improvement project for some time.

“It’s a pretty notorious route,” he said. “(Installing a third lane is) something that’s been on a needs list for decades.”

Additional features include improving fish passage by enhancing and/or removing culverts for Brush and Ladd creeks and realigning Brush Creek along the east side of the westbound freeway. Strandberg said both streams were realigned to run adjacent to the freeway during I-84’s initial construction in the 1960s and 1970s, which eliminated fish passage in the area. He said a 2015 project alleviated some of those issues, and the 2018 project will complete the long-awaited upgrades. Next year’s project includes additional culverts to make the streams’ descent more gradual to connect from each side of the freeway “in a manner that’s fish passable,” Strandberg said.

The stretch of interstate will also receive pavement and striping improvements.

The work zone will require single-lane travel through the construction area with confined shoulder space, so reduced speeds and minor delays should be expected.

Access for the I-84 westbound on-ramp from Ladd Canyon Road at exit 270 will be restricted to accommodate the removal of the existing bridge and construction of the new box culvert. The westbound on-ramp is scheduled to be closed from 7 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day during construction. The exit 270 eastbound off-ramp, which connects to Ladd Canyon Road, will remain open except for periodic delays to allow movement of equipment and materials.

The public comments from the meeting will help ODOT fine-tune when road constructions will take place. Anyone who can’t make the meeting is encouraged to contact the department at 541-963-1330 for details.

“We just want to make sure people who are going to be impacted have an opportunity to voice concerns so we can make it the least problematic,” Strandberg said. “We’ll incorporate (concerns) or anything that we didn’t know about into the final traffic report plan, and consider how to possibly figure that in."