County requests Highway 22 safety corridor

ODOT determining if the highway qualifies

The intersection of Highway 22/51, an area prone to serious crashes, would be part of the requested safety corridor on Highway 22.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
The intersection of Highway 22/51, an area prone to serious crashes, would be part of the requested safety corridor on Highway 22.

DALLAS — The Polk County Board of Commissioners is awaiting word from the Oregon Department of Transportation on a request to re-establish a safety corridor on Highway 22.

The request is for the portion of the highway from the Willamette River bridges in Salem west to Oak Grove Road be designated.

Highway 22 from the Willamette River bridges to Rickreall was a safety corridor from 1993 to 2010, when it was decommissioned due to lower crash rates. County officials said building an interchange at the intersection of highways 22 and 99W decreased traffic crashes in that area.

But they don’t believe that safety improved on the entire stretch, thus the request to look at a shortened safety corridor.

“Fast forward to today, with more vehicle traffic/congestion, virtually no safety improvements in the last seven years and supporting crash data for that problem area, consideration of a safety corridor is more than justified,” the commissioners’ letter to ODOT said.

Safety corridors impose greater fines for speeding, provide for increased patrols, and place signs to remind drivers to slow down and use more caution.

The request was made in August. ODOT hasn’t sent word about a decision, but the agency and Polk County Public Works are scheduling a meeting to discuss the request.

Todd Whitaker, Polk County’s director of public works, said ODOT held an internal meeting on the proposal. The next step is for Polk County and ODOT to discuss the findings of crash reports, which will be part of the criteria for the highway to qualify for safety corridor status.

A stretch of road must meet standards to qualify, including a serious or fatal crash rate that is 150 percent higher than similar roads in the state, and the availability of police patrols, said Nicole Charlson, with ODOT’s Region 2 Traffic Safety division, in an email about the request.

“We have requested the crash data and we’re looking into whether or not it qualifies as a safety corridor,” Charlson wrote. “ODOT has been closely monitoring traffic on Highway 22, and every fatal crash is reviewed by our traffic safety staff.”

She said if the section of highway doesn’t qualify for designation, ODOT can seek other solutions, including grants to Oregon State Police and Polk County Sheriff’s Office for patrols in the areas most prone to crashes.

“Police enforcement is one of the best ways to reduce crashes, because drivers slow down and pay better attention when they see a patrol vehicle,” Charlson wrote.

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