POLK COUNTY — The Oregon Department of Transportation will apply for funding to complete a roundabout at the intersection of Clow Corner Road and Highway 99W later this summer.
ODOT spokesman Lou Torres said the agency needs to take the request to the Oregon Transportation Commission. That meeting should happen in July or August and after that, ODOT will have more details on the project timeline, Torres said.
The OTC consists of five commissioners appointed by the governor to set the state’s transportation policy and guide planning, development and management of statewide transportation systems.
Once a timeline for the roundabout project is nailed down, ODOT will begin a public information campaign to allow people to get familiar with roundabouts. Torres said that will include a “roundabout rodeo,” to be held at the Polk County Fairgrounds.
It will feature a full-size roundabout made of cones that cars, commercial trucks and farm equipment can drive through.
“It demonstrates to the people who are concerned of how farm vehicles will go through a roundabout,” he said. “It demonstrates how it will work.”
County officials made a last pitch to install a traffic signal instead of a roundabout at a recent meeting with ODOT Director Matt Garrett. The agency, which maintains the highway, wasn’t swayed by arguments for a light.
Commissioner Craig Pope said one of Garrett’s concerns was the speed the vehicles were traveling and how closely they were following one another through the intersection.
“There was a number of folks who were very aggressive drivers and tailgating as they entered the intersection,” Pope said.
Based on what he saw, Garrett decided to proceed with the roundabout.
“We really think it will work well at that location,” Torres said.
Pope pointed out that county officials used the light installed at Hoffman Road and 99W as an example of a safety improvement. It has reduced crashes by about 70 percent since its installation about 16 years ago. No fatalities have occurred since the light was put in.
According to ODOT, a 2016 analysis at Clow Corner didn’t qualify the intersection for a light. Neither the Board of Commissioners nor Public Works Director Todd Whitaker has been able to convince the agency otherwise.
“We tried everything we could,” Pope said.
He added his objection to a roundabout isn’t about safety — he believes a roundabout will make the intersection safer — but about cost. A $1.5 million signal also would improve safety, much like at Hoffman Road, with less of a price tag, he said.
The estimated cost of the roundabout is $6.7 million. According to ODOT’s description of the project on its website, the project bid date on the roundabout as of now is early 2020, with construction happening from spring to fall of that same year.
“The intersection has a history of serious crashes that have resulted in at least two fatalities and a number of injury crashes,” the description said. “A roundabout will result in fewer severe crashes and fewer crashes overall, as well as resulting in less average delay for the motorist.”
Pope said the silver lining in the visit was that Garrett was able to see the Orrs Corner and 99W intersection, just north of Clow Corner.
Motorists turning left from the highway stop in the middle of traffic. Pope said he told Garrett that the intersection should be a right in, right out only, a suggestion that may make its way into the Clow Corner improvement project.
“It’s not the outcome we want here for the roundabout,” Pope said. “I was very grateful that — that we got his consideration for a significant safety improvement.”
For more information on the Clow Corner project and to see a roundabout in action: www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=16120.