Over a 12-hour period, crews from multiple fire agencies and counties responded to two serious motor vehicle crashes on South Highway 211 in the cities of Colton and Molalla. It wasn't but a year ago that I was providing comment for a news story about the tragic loss of two people within a four-day period and the dangers involved with travel on South Highway 211.
Fast forward a year later. In January, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas contacted my office requesting a meeting to discuss the issue and try and come up with some ideas and solutions regarding the highway. It was nice to see Commissioner Savas having a personal interest in our community and the sincere concern and commitment he had about much needed changes to the highway.
One of the first areas we needed to look into was the why. Why are we having so many accidents, bad accidents on this stretch of road? Depending on who you ask, you will get different views and answers. One of the concerns was that there was a huge increase in crashes over the last couple of years, but the statistics we received showed that the past several years have been pretty consistent in the number of crashes—averaging 25 a year. I would, however, suggest that the seriousness or severity of the crashes has increased.
Other statistics provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation state that 51 percent of the crashes involved vehicles crashing into fixed objects, 21 percent were rear-end crashes, 14 percent of crashes involved speed, and 5 percent involved impairment.
The data shows the top cause of crashes was due to improper driving, which means driver error, the second most listed cause was not yielding the right-of-way, followed by crossing over the centerline and drowsy driving. Those causes accounted for 45 percent of the crashes in the last five years.
One of the community members who has been most active in the fight for safety improvements on the highway is Greg Adams. Adams, who also serves as an executive board member with the Colton Fire District, has spent a lot of time working on this project. He has provided a lot of information on social media sites like Facebook keeping the community up to date with information. He has also contacted multiple local, state and federal agencies to come up with a solution.
One of the projects Adams worked on was the attempt to designate South Highway 211 from the Beavercreek Road-Union Mills Road to Highway 224 as a safety corridor.
The response from ODOT was, "A safety corridor is typically designated and the signs placed along the highway in corridors that have a history of having a fatal and serious injury crash rate that is much worse than the statewide average (specifically, at or above 150 percent of the statewide average). Other criteria that are required include participation from local law enforcement to make patrol in the corridor a priority, and an active local traffic safety committee. On this corridor, the fatal and serious injury crash rate is 152 percent, which meets the crash threshold; however, we are currently prioritizing corridors that are 200-400 percent higher that the state average."
ODOT does currently have two projects scheduled for South Highway 211. One is the installation of delineators, metal posts with reflectors at the top to help motorists stay in alignment with the road and prevent roadway departure. Those will be installed from mile points 14.21 – 33.48.
In 2020, South Highway 211 is scheduled to have rumble strips installed. Rumble strips are grooves or rows of indents in the pavement installed on the centerline and shoulders, changing the noise a vehicle's tires make on the surface to warn drivers of speed restrictions or the edge of the road to alert drivers when they are leaving the roadway or crossing the centerline. They have been proven to be effective to reduce roadway departure crashes.
So, the state is looking at making the improvements but still doesn't address the leading cause of the crashes, which is human error. There has to be a change in culture or a change in the way people operate when they are behind the wheel. With that all we can do as a fire agency is try and get the message out there; the rest is up to the individual.
This letter was published in The Molalla Pioneer on 02/24/2020, and shared on our District Facebook Page.