Life in the fast lane is becoming safer for those driving between La Grande and Ladd Canyon on Interstate 84.

The shoulders of the westbound and eastbound fast lanes of the 10-mile La Grande-to-Ladd Canyon stretch of I-84 have been widened by three feet as part of the first phase of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s $30 million Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project.

The widening of the of the fast lane shoulders, completed in June, is part of a project in which crews will also add a 1.5-mile eastbound third lane to the Ladd Canyon entrance and replace a bridge.

The expansion of the shoulders, which are now seven feet wide, provides more space for drivers to pull over during emergencies, said Mike Remily of ODOT, manager of the Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project. Remily also said the expanded shoulders will be a big help when ODOT has to close the slow lanes to do maintenance work. All slow-lane traffic will be diverted to the fast lanes, where the additional space will be make things less hazardous for drivers as well as maintenance workers.

“(The expanded shoulders) will make it safer for everyone,” Remily said.

Other I-84 work that has also been completed as part of the project includes repaving Exit 265, about five miles west of Ladd Canyon. Remily said the Exit 265 roadway was badly in need of repair.

“It was cracked and rutted,” he said.

Although the Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project was hindered by wet weather this spring, its contractor, Knife River Construction of Boise, Idaho, remains right on schedule. Regardless, Remily said he is looking forward to the drier weather Northeast Oregon is expected to have in July and August.

“Everything always moves faster in construction when conditions are dry,” Remily said.

All of the project’s remaining work is being done over a two-mile stretch around the entry into Ladd Canyon. The speed limit in the zone is 50 miles per hour 24 hours a day and will remain so until the Phase 1 work is completed in late October. Remily said not all drivers are obeying the limit.

“A number of (work zone traffic) citations have been issued (by law enforcement officers),” Remily said.

Since early April, everyone in the Ladd Canyon area, including those who have cabins, have not been able to leave via I-84 on weekdays between 7 a.m. and noon and between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. because of bridge removal work crews are doing. No restrictions for leaving Ladd Canyon via I-84 will be in place this week because work crews will be in a different area. The restricted weekday schedule will take effect again July 15.

The bridge being removed is one in an eastbound lane. It will be replaced by a concrete box-like structure that will be large enough to accommodate log trucks and semi trucks, Remily said.

“It will feel like you are driving under a tunnel,” he said.

The bridge is being replaced because it tends to get icy and has long posed a problem in freezing weather, the ODOT official said.

About half of the bridge has been removed and the rest will be taken out by the end of September. The concrete box is being installed as the bridge is being taken out and should be in by October.

ODOT will resume its Ladd Canyon project in April 2020. The work done will include the addition of a 1.5-mile third lane on I-84 from milepost 269.5 to milepost 271. The new lane will be meant for trucks. The expanded space should reduce the number of accidents by spreading out traffic.

The number of times Ladd Canyon has to be closed due to trucks blocking lanes will also decrease, Remily said. He explained that if a truck crashes in the future, there will be enough room for traffic to move around it while it is being cleared.

Trucks drivers will be allowed to use only the inner and the middle lanes while automobile drivers will be permitted to drive in all three. The three-lane stretch, Remily said, will be similar to an eastbound one on I-84 just east of Pendleton.

The entire Ladd Canyon Freight Improvement Project is expected to be completed by October of 2020, Remily said.