A $30 million Oregon Department of Transportation project in the Ladd Canyon area that will add a 1.5-mile third lane to Interstate 84 and other safety features is beginning.

The launch of the 18-month Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project means the speed limit through ODOT’s work zone on the west side of Ladd Canyon is now 50 miles per hour. The reduced speed will remain in effect until all ODOT work scheduled for this year is completed, around Oct. 31. The speed limit, according to ODOT, will then return to 70 miles per hour.

The first phase of the Ladd Canyon project will involve removing an eastbound lane bridge near the entrance into Ladd Canyon and replacing it with a concrete box culvert. The box will be large enough to accommodate log trucks and semi trucks, said Mike Remily of ODOT, manager of the Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project.

Taking out the bridge will be beneficial because it tends to get icy, the ODOT official said.

“Removing the bridge will eliminate a chronic freezing problem,” said Remily, a project engineer for ODOT.

He explained bridges usually freeze first in cold conditions because they are sandwiched between cold air. The adjacent roadway by contrast freezes later since only its top surface is exposed to frigid air and its bottom is insulated by soil.

Remily said the culvert to be added will not get icy as quickly because it will have ground insulation.

Replacing the bridge with a culvert will also be beneficial because it will eliminate a cross slope on the freeway, reducing vehicle slide-offs during the winter.

To accommodate demolition of the bridge and construction of the culvert box, the Ladd Creek westbound on-ramp will be closed from 7 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, until the end of October. This means people in the Ladd Creek area, including those who have cabins, will not be able to get on to I-84 during these daytime closures. Exceptions will be made for emergencies, Remily said.

Additional I-84 work planned for this year includes widening the slow lane shoulder over a 10-mile stretch from milepost 260 to 270, which runs approximately from La Grande to Ladd Canyon.

“This will improve safety for construction and maintenance crews performing future work on that stretch of the freeway and help better accommodate wide loads,” Remily said.

Repaving the interchange ramps at Exit 265 near the west entrance into Ladd Canyon is also set for this year as part of the ODOT project.

“This work will take place at night,” said Remily, noting the date has not yet been set for the start of the repaving work.

ODOT will resume its Ladd Canyon work in 2020 on April 8. The work done will include the addition of a 1.5-mile eastbound third lane on I-84 from milepost 269.5 to milepost 271. The expanded space should reduce the number of times Ladd Canyon has to be closed due to trucks blocking lanes.

Remily explained if a truck crashes in the future three-lane roadway, traffic will be able to move around it while it is being cleared.

See complete story in Monday's Observer