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Upcoming projects tackle truck bottlenecks on steep climbs

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Interstate 5 is the primary freight corridor on the West Coast. Along a 150-mile stretch from the Oregon-California border to northern Douglas County are seven steep climbs that create significant congestion issues for commercial truck traffic and all other drivers.

Two I-5 projects currently in the design phase and slated for construction in 2011 and 2013 will address truck congestion on steep climbs in southern Oregon. The new climbing lanes will not only reduce travel time but also address the trucking industry’s safety and insurance concerns related to driving on shoulders.

Commercial trucks use the I-5 shoulders to navigate mountain passes. The new climbing lanes would be built to today’s standards, thereby reducing the need for on-going shoulder maintenance.

“Southern Oregon is one of the weak links in the I-5 corridor,” said ODOT Project Leader Mark Leedom, who is managing the I-5: Jumpoff Joe to Glendale Paving and Climbing Lanes project. “On each climb, trucks slow down in the outside lane, which results in congestion and increases the possibility of crashes.

“Some trucks negotiate the passes using the outside shoulders. However, the shoulders weren’t built to handle commercial loads. They were built to provide a safe refuge for disabled vehicles.”

Similarly, trucks currently using the shoulder drive immediately adjacent to the guardrail, causing significant damage that requires frequent repair. Climbing lanes will create space between the trucks and safety guardrail.
The addition of climbing lanes is expected to reduce the frequency of I-5 closures related to commercial trucks on the steepest grades, especially during winter driving conditions.

“The project allows the highway shoulders to return to their primary purpose, serving as a safety refuge for disabled vehicles or a chain-up area during winter storms,” Leedom said. “The project also reduces the likelihood of crashes caused by faster moving trucks veering into the fast lane to pass slower-moving trucks on the steepest grades, especially during winter driving conditions.

I-5: Jumpoff Joe to Glendale Climbing Lanes

Between Jumpoff Joe Creek (exit 66) and Glendale (exit 80), I-5 traverses three steep summits – Sexton, Smith Hill and Stage Road – where commercial trucks slow down in the outside lane.

In 2013, a $49.6 million project will build one or both of the northbound and southbound climbing lanes on Sexton Mountain Pass, between Hugo exit 66 and Sunny Valley exit 71.

In addition to the climbing lanes, ODOT will repave more than 14 miles of I-5 north of Hugo. Bridge approaches will be rebuilt in several locations. Substandard and damaged guardrail and terminals will be replaced and substandard median barrier will be upgraded, too.

“The scope of the work depends on available funding,” Leedom said. “We started survey and drilling work on Smith Hill Summit and Stage Road Pass Summit as well because it will save money and time should additional funding become available to address these climbs.”

I-5: Elkhead Road to Sutherlin Paving and Climbing Lanes

In 2011, a $17.2 million project will build two southbound climbing lanes at Sutherlin Hill (mile point 137.6) and Rice Hill (MP 147.3), two of the steepest climbs north of Roseburg.

The section of I-5 between Sutherlin and Rice Hill was last paved in 1995, and the blacktop on the northbound lanes between Rice Hill and Elkhead Road dates back to 1986. The roadway is cracked and showing signs of deterioration.

The northbound lanes of I-5 will be resurfaced from the Sutherlin (exit 136) to Elkhead Road (exit 154), while the southbound lanes will be paved from Rice Hill (exit 148) to Sutherlin. ODOT will also repave the northbound Cabin Creek rest area (exit 143).

“The Federal Highway Administration has recognized I-5 in southern Oregon as having some of the worst steep grade truck bottlenecks in the nation,” said ODOT Project Leader Elizabeth Stacey, who is managing the I-5: Elkhead Road to Sutherlin Paving and Climbing Lanes Project. “The benefits of adding truck climbing lanes extend beyond Oregon to the neighboring states of Washington and California.”

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