Morgan Lake road

Two vehicles pass Tuesday on the narrow Morgan Lake Road near La Grande. The Oregon Department of Transportation’s proposal of improvement projects for 2021-24 includes widening portions of Morgan Lake Road and installing more guardrails.

LA GRANDE — A Wallowa County bridge built the same year the first television drama was broadcast is due for replacement because of declining ratings.

The Oregon Department of Transportation plans to remove Bear Creek Bridge, less than a quarter mile west of Wallowa on Highway 82, after building a new $15.2 million bridge in its place, according to Ken Patterson, ODOT's manager for Eastern Oregon. 

The state transportation agency calls for the construction of the new bridge in the 2021-24 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The Oregon Transportation Commission in late January released a draft of the plan, which mandates ODOT's capital improvement program.

The bridge was built in 1930, the same year as the broadcast of the world's first television drama. The condition of the Bear Creek span is declining, according to the transportation department's rating system. 

The new bridge will use improved technology and materials, so it will have fewer support columns in the stream below, Patterson said, making it easier for maintenance crews to keep debris from building up underneath. The new bridge also will be wider and will be built next to the old one, allowing traffic to cross during construction. The project would start in 2021.

ODOT's program also calls for work to improve the safety of the steep Morgan Lake Road just southwest of La Grande. The work would widen portions of the unpaved roadway and install additional guardrails, Patterson said. 

The department will determine where to make the improvements using crash data. The project would cost about $1.28 million and begin in 2023. 

Replacing the decking of the two bridges at the North Powder interchange also is on the list of proposed projects. The last replacement of the decking was about 20 years ago.

"They are pitted and rutted," Patterson said.


Another project in Union County would install better piping in culverts along Interstate 84 from Hilgard Junction State Park to Ontario. The enhanced piping would help keep water from running over the top of the freeway, Patterson said. 

The public can visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT to review the draft of the statewide plan and submit comments. The deadline for public comments is April 6.  


An online open house on the STIP work will begin later this month and last about two weeks. A video on the program will be available at a website during the open house along with extensive written information, and website visitors will be able to make comments on the proposal. Information on accessing the online open house is coming soon, according to ODOT.

Individuals also have an opportunity to make comments in person at a traditional open house March 10 in John Day. It will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Oregon Department of Forestry conference room at 415 Patterson Bridge Road. 

The State Transportation Commission later will vote on approval of a final plan for 2021-24. The federal government then must give its OK to the program. That should come by September.  

Patterson said ODOT welcomes public comments and gives them serious consideration. He said the department is not only interested in receiving input on the plan but wants to hear from people who have recommendations regarding future projects they want the agency to pursue. He said the transportation department has taken on projects in the past after the public made recommendations. 

"We want to be a responsive agency," he said. "We want to meet the needs of everyone because we live and work here."

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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