99W corridor is concern

POLK COUNTY -- Patience is hard to come by if you've ever been among the drivers backed up for blocks behind the Highway 99W/Main Street intersection during rush hour.


POLK COUNTY -- Patience is hard to come by if you've ever been among the drivers backed up for blocks behind the Highway 99W/Main Street intersection during rush hour.

Or maybe it's trepidation you feel trying to venture north or south onto the highway from the Clow Corner Road crossing a few miles to the north.

Those emotions are common if you regularly travel between the Rickreall interchange and Monmouth's southern city limits. The six-mile stretch serves the combined populations of Polk County's three principle cities -- plus some.

"It carries a lot of traffic," said Steve Jacobson, a regional engineer for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). "It's an important transportation route (for the county), and to and from Corvallis."

ODOT is currently trying to decide how to enhance travel in the 99W corridor in the future, examining traffic speed, volume and crash data on the stretch's six main intersections as part of a comprehensive study.

The end product, due by June 2010, will prioritize improvements needed to handle expected traffic levels in 20 years. The most important items could be included in Oregon's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which allots funding in three-year cycles.

"You want to identify the problem and a solution, then work to get it on that STIP list," Monmouth Community Development Director Mark Fancey said.

The study is being managed by engineering-firm CH2M HILL, with input from Polk County, Monmouth and other government officials. It began in April.

Data shows almost 12,000 vehicles traveling daily between the Highway 22/99W interchange and Monmouth's northern city limits.

"That's a fair amount," Jacobson said. "But what gets considerable is the 20-year projections that puts that amount at 20,000 -- and that's the limit of it operating as a two-lane highway."

Most of the six intersections on the studied segment exceed queue capacity during peak hours. The 99W junction with Rickreall Road, for example, sees lines of southbound cars periodically blocking the Burch Street intersection.

The crash rate from the Rickreall interchange to the south end of Monmouth is actually below the state's five-year average of 2.38 crashes per million vehicle miles.

But between Monmouth's northern and southern city limits, the rate more than doubles to 5.88 crashes. Forty-seven percent of those collisions were rear-end accidents, the study said.

A major area of concern so far is the Clow Corner Road intersection, Jacobson said. Its crash rate isn't exceedingly high, but three people have died in accidents there since 1999, two between 2003 and 2007.

That puts Clow Corner in the top 5 percent of road segments in ODOT's Safety Priority Index System. Crashes at angles account for 48 percent of the 23 incidents there between 2003 and 2007, indicating problems with cars turning north or south onto 99W from the crossroad.

"Somebody is trying to pull out and turn, and they get hit," Monmouth Mayor John Oberst said. "You sit in your car long enough, you get desperate and you finally take that chance when you shouldn't."

Planners are pondering hypothetical fixes along the highway segment, such as additional traffic signals, roundabouts and even through roads. Those will be presented during an open house in October, Jacobson said.

Jacobson said he felt that Clow Corner would more than likely see improvements in the future.

But when those might happen, "in our current economy, I wouldn't want to speculate," he said.

For more information, contact ODOT's Region 2 office at 503-986-2600.


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