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Oregon highway divider saves lives, prevents crashes

By Yoko Minoura
The (Bend) Bulletin

Over the past four years, there have been 15 incidents in which drivers on Highway 97 south of Bend, Ore., lost control, slid across the highway and struck an object on the opposite shoulder, according to an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) spokesman.

But a new median barrier installed on Highway 97 near Lava Butte by ODOT in Aug. 2003 is preventing these and other accidents caused by vehicles sliding into oncoming traffic, according to a release from ODOT's Dan Knoll.

Sgt. Dan Bilyeu of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office said that during winter, the combination of snow or ice, the slope of the highway and the bank of the curve create a hazard for motorists.

Even vehicles headed south, or uphill, have sometimes slid backward and across lanes of oncoming traffic, he said.

Motorists should make sure their vehicles have adequate traction when traveling the highway in winter weather, he said.
"We know that section of highway tends to have slick conditions" in winter, Knoll said.

"I can't emphasize enough that folks need to drive according to the (weather) conditions."

According to the ODOT release, the barrier has been struck at least 14 times since it went up.

"It shows the importance of having the barrier up there," Knoll said.

The median barrier can also contain problems on the highway, Bilyeu said. If a semitrailer jackknifes, the barrier ensures "it's not creating havoc across the entire four lanes."

The area does not seem to pose a problem during the summer months, Bilyeu said.

The barrier, which cost $975,000, includes concrete segments and metal guardrail. There are gaps to allow deer migration and provide access to the highway from side streets without compromising public safety, Knoll said.

Photo: Motorists pass each other on Highway 97 north of Lava Butte on Friday. A barrier in the median has made the area safer for drivers, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. (Courtesy of Dean Guernsey / The Bulletin.)